Jonshel Alexander, who as a 12-year-old appeared in the role of Joy Strong in the award-winning indie film, died at the age of 22 in her native New Orleans after she and another man were shot inside their vehicle on Nov. 27, the Associated Press reports. Alexander was pronounced dead at the scene, while the man was able to drive to a nearby hospital for treatment.
Beasts of the Southern Wild, winner of the Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Award and nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, was Alexander’s lone film role. Director Benh Zeitlin cast native Louisiana children — including then-6-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis, who starred as Hushpuppy — in the film. Alexander initially auditioned for the role of Hushpuppy but was too old for the role.
“We incorporated a part into the film that was very much inspired by her,” Zeitlin told nola.com following news of Alexander’s death. “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 added that Alexander was an “absolute one-of-a-kind, unforgettable, force-of-nature human being.”
While investigators have discovered a vehicle of interest connected to Alexander’s murder, no suspects have yet been arrested.