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February 21st, 2013

Young Actors Achieve Big at the Oscars

Each year, the Academy Awards, better known as the “Oscars”, celebrate the best films and documentaries with categories ranging from acting, directing and screenwriting, to costumes and special effects. This year, 9-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis joins the list of kids who have taken the movie business by storm, as she competes for the best actress award for her role as ‘Hushpuppy’ in the film “Beasts of the Southern Wild.”

Quvenzhané Wallis (center, in purple) poses with the other Oscar nominees at the 85th Academy Awards Nominations Luncheon. At nine years old, she is 13 years younger than her youngest competitor for best actress, Jennifer Lawrence (22).

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is made up of filmmakers in all fields.  The group ranks their favorites in each category. Oftentimes Oscar recognition can take many years, but for some lucky and talented individuals that honor comes early in life.

Newcomer Quvenzhané Wallis (pronounced Kwe-VEN-zhah-nay) portrayed ‘Hushpuppy,’ a young girl fighting to survive in a poor Mississippi Delta community prone to devastating flooding. In the film, Wallis learns to find food in the wilderness, escapes a homeless shelter and deals with the death of her father.  She will be the youngest ever nominee in the best actress category at nine years old.

Born in Houma, La., Quvenzhané was just five years old when she auditioned for “Beasts of the Southern Wild”. Since auditions for the role of Hushpuppy were only open to 6-9 year olds, Quvenzhané’s mother lied on the initial  paperwork to allow her daughter to audition. When director Benh Zeitlin saw her audition however, he immediately recognized her as the best pick for this strong and independent young character.

Young actors and actresses make it to the Oscars

While Wallis is the youngest actress ever to be nominated for the Academy Award for best actress, she is not the youngest nominee ever at the Oscars. That honor belongs to Justin Henry, who was just eight years old when he was nominated for best supporting actor for his part as Billy Kramer in the film “Kramer vs. Kramer” about the aftermath of divorce.

If Wallis wins on Sunday, she will unseat Tatum O’Neal as the youngest ever Oscar winner. O’Neal was ten years old when she won in 1974 for the film “Paper Moon”.

Jackie Cooper was the first child to ever be nominated for an Academy Award. He played the lead in the 1931 movie “Skippy” and was nominated for best actor at nine years old. After starring in several more films as a child star in the 1930s including “Treasure Island” (1934), he served in the Navy and returned to Broadway after service. Later in life he found fame in front of the camera once again, starring as Perry White, the editor of ‘The Daily Planet’ in all four of Christopher Reeve’s “Superman” films.

Like Cooper, Justin Henry decided to explore opportunities outside of the movies, eventually ending up as a new media business consultant.

For her role in the 2006 film “Little Miss Sunshine”, Abigail Breslin was nominated for best actress in a supporting role at the age of ten. Now 16, she is set to star in the upcoming film adaptation of the popular novel “Ender’s Game”.

Haley Joel Osment was 11 years old when he starred in the classic M. Night Shyamalan film “The Sixth Sense” (1999). His role as a boy who could see ghosts won him a nomination for best actor in a supporting role. Now 24, Osment has remained in the acting field, performing on Broadway and doing video game voice-overs in addition to films.

At the moment, the second youngest winner of an Oscar award is Anna Paquin who won for best supporting actress for the film “The Piano” (1993) at the age of 11. Paquin has had steady success over the years as an actress, starring in several of the “X-men” comic book films as ‘Rogue’, and more recently in the the HBO vampire drama television series “True Blood”.

On the other side of the camera, the youngest ever nominee for the award for best director was John Singleton at age 24 for his 1991 film “Boyz n the Hood”. Singleton has since gone on to direct “2 Fast 2 Furious” (2003) and “Four Brothers” (2005).

Looking Ahead

Whether or not Wallis wins the Oscar, she’s already a popular choice for movie directors. She recently finished a project set in 19th century New York entitled “12 Years a Slave” in which she appears alongside Brad Pitt, Paul Giamatti and Michael Fassbender.

– Compiled by Ibrahim Balkhy for NewsHour Extra

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