Jonshel Alexander, who acted in a supporting in the Academy Award-nominated film Beasts of the Southern Wild in 2012, was fatally shot in New Orleans on Saturday night. She was 22 years old.
The former child star’s tragic death came at the hands of an as-yet-unknown gunman. She was reportedly sitting in a car with an unnamed man on the 1500 block of North Claiborne Avenue in New Orleans’ 7th Ward at about 9 p.m. The gunman approached the vehicle and opened fire. Alexander was pronounced dead at the scene by paramedics. The man she was with was able to drive himself to the hospital for further medical care. His condition is not yet known.
Alexander played Joy Strong in Beasts of the Southern Wild. The surrealist drama focuses on a bayou community outside the levee system, threatened by an impending storm, and the charismatic and the children who live there. Cast mainly with inexperienced actors and unknowns, the film was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival.
Alexander starred alongside then 6-year-old Qvenzhané Wallis, who paid tribute to her former castmate in a heartfelt social media post.
“When [we] were filming we were always together and I wish I could go back in time so I can see you again,” Wallis wrote. “I love you. You will be missed by so many.”
According to TMZ, Beasts of the Southern Wild director Benh Zeitlin says he essentially created a role specifically for Alexander after being blown away by her spirit.
“A lot of the lines were written by her, and so much of the character grew out of who Jonshel was,” he said. “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.”
Beasts of the Southern Wild was Alexander’s only credited acting role. After the film, she continued school. Upon graduating, she worked in the restaurant industry. She is survived by a young daughter.