Beans tells the story of Tekehentahkhwa (Kiawentiio), a young Mohawk girl who is affectionately known as Beans. A coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of the Oka Crisis, Beans champions Mohawk voices, and viewpoints in a time when they were being lauded widely as terrorists. There is obviously a lot of nuance and detail to this crisis, but essentially a Mohawk forest and graveyard are being touted for development into a golf course. To any reasonable person, this is obviously a horrific wrongdoing, but there are still modern parallels. The time setting of 1990 isn't entirely clear, as this story could easily be set now, with comparisons to the Dakota Access Pipeline Protests, or the Black Lives Matter protests. The extent of the hatred and racism is astounding, and hard to watch; as there are aggressive reactions to all, men, women, and children — with all common sense lost in a sea of conflict. While initially the anger primarily comes from Mohawk men, protesting their rage at the misuse of their land — this is reflected ten-fold in the white majority who come up against them throughout the film.
Director Tracey Deer tells the story of Beans as a realistic and flawed child. She is unable to really understand the impact of what is happening around her or its relevance; but absorbs the frustration of her parents. This is all reflected in her behaviour. Beans develops from an innocent child to a teen who is trying to be older than she is — eventually putting herself in some dangerous situations. Of course, like so many teenagers, her parents only know the least of what has been happening, while being too caught up in their own conflicts. The film follows a lot of the standard beats of a coming-of-age story, as Beans is taken under the wing of April (Paulina Alexis), with a request to help her to be tougher. The effects of trauma and conflict on children at this age are centre stage, as she is trying to fit in with young people who are traumatised themselves — mimicking their behaviour and absorbing their rage. The script, co-written between Tracey Deer and Meredith Vuchnich, is beautifully simplistic and unpretentious.
The masculine rage is balanced by the adult women of the story — her mother Lily (Rainbow Dickerson), and other women join hands to prevent escalation in a powerful moment. All the while these women are trying to keep their children fed and supported in what is an incredibly difficult and stressful situation, having to leave their homes and walk through angry crowds in the hope that the stores will serve them. These scenes of conflict are complimented by archive news footage of White Canadians talking, shouting, and proclaiming their rage, driving home the point that this portrayal isn't exaggerated. The cognitive dissonance of some of the population is astounding, as they ignore how they came to own the land that they proclaim such an attachment too. Thankfully non-indigenous voices aren't completely demonised or alienated, as there is occasional footage of those who supported the Mohawk people, making it feel like a balanced representation of events.
In a time when indigenous stories are still primarily being told by white voices, it is refreshing to see films like Beans, and other productions (such as 2013s Rhymes For Young Ghouls and 2019s Blood Quantum by Jeff Barnaby) coming out of the Canadian independent film scene. These films address current and multigenerational trauma honestly, holding space for indigenous voices in a time when they continue to be silenced. Despite some minor pacing issues, Beans is a film that deserves to be immediately seen.
Dir: Tracey Deer
Scr: Tracey Deer, Meredith Vuchnich
Cast: Kiawentiio, Violah Beauvais, Rainbow Dickerson
DOP: Marie Davignon
Runtime: 92 Minutes
Beans premiered at this year's Berlinale as part of the Generation K-Plus Program. The film is currently seeking UK Distribution.