NEW ORLEANS — Jonshel Alexander, a onetime child actor who played a supporting role in the Oscar-nominated film “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” was killed in a weekend shooting in her native Louisiana. She was 22.
Police said Alexander and a man were shot inside a vehicle Saturday in New Orleans and she was pronounced dead at the scene. The man, whose name was not released, drove to a hospital for treatment.
At age 12, Alexander played the character Joy Strong in 2012's “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” a drama filmed near Houma recounting the story of a poor Louisiana bayou community struggling for survival. The film won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and was nominated for four Academy Awards, including best picture.
Director Benh Zeitlin cast Louisiana natives for the lead roles, auditioning more than 4,000 actors before completing the cast. Shelly Alexander said her daughter charmed the filmmakers and came out on top.
“She was like, ‘I’m going to be in this movie,’” her mother recalled. “They fell in love with Jonshel.”
Alexander was too old to play the film’s lead role of Hushpuppy, which went to then-6-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis. But Zeitlin said he was captivated by Alexander, describing her as an “absolute one-of-a-kind, unforgettable, force-of-nature human being” and cast her in the supporting role.
“We incorporated a part into the film that was very much inspired by her,” Zeitlin said. “A lot of the lines were written by her, and so much of the character grew out of who Jonshel was. Her character in the film is named Joy Strong, which always seemed like a perfect description of Jonshel. She was a really bright burning light.”
Zeitlin said he was devastated to learn of her death and has been in touch with her family.
Alexander was the youngest of three children, The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate reported. After graduating from high school, she worked as a hostess in restaurants and devoted herself to the care of her 1-year-old daughter, De-vynne Robinson.
“She brought life to everything,” Shelly Alexander told the newspaper Tuesday. “Jonshel was feisty, jazzy, spoiled. It was her way or no way. Jonshel was like, ‘It’s going to be me.’ ”
Meanwhile, investigators are seeking a person of interest in the shooting and have asked the public’s help for any information in the case.