Beans – BlackStar Film Festival 2021 – Film Review

That sense of ‘other’ pervades the film Beans, which is the nickname given to its teenage protagonist, as this coming of age tale is based on the true events within a turbulent period for the Mohawk communities in Canada. This historical context represents the 78 day standoff in 1990 between Quebec and other Canadian communities, known as the Oka Crisis, as a lingering backdrop providing a simmering tension.

At times, this underlying tension is omnipresent as Beans and her family drive through protests and are subject to altercations demonstrating an all too real threat within their neighbourhood. Whilst the film’s focus remains on Beans’ point of view, the film provides a glimpse into the fight faced by an indigenous community for their rights, who may not have had a voice, as a golf course’s expansion threatened to invade sacred burial ground. Beans provides an immediate immersion into the impact of the crisis from a teenager’s perspective as well as portraying the challenges faced by an indigenous teenage girl.

Whilst the film follows coming of age tropes as 12 year old Beans encounters peer pressure to fit in with an older crowd, this sense of belonging is heightened by her family’s involvement in the ongoing protests during the Oka Crisis. Noticeably, Beans’ role embraces the tension of her inherent loyalty to the Mohawk community combined with the desire to be a normal teenager.

Beans and her sister in Beans
Beans and her sister in Beans

Director Tracey Deer’s examination of the crisis through Beans’ eyes inserts an added layer of poignancy and sympathy to this historical event but warrants further depth. Still, her nuanced directional choices are insightful and evoke emotional resonance particularly with camera angles placed within the car as Beans and her family drive through a wall of protestors hurling rocks during the blockades. The splinters of glass seen and the impact felt by Beans plus her pregnant mother and her sister are a terrifying situation to behold and Deer skilfully amplifies that emotional devastation via such immersion.

Beans’ underlying frustration is therefore understandable however Deer’s vision demonstrates how an individual’s actions can go too far in the defence of rights with a sensitive and powerful portrayal elicited from Kiawentiio as Beans. Kiawentiio’s performance invites empathy for Beans despite her flawed actions as she is merely a young child trying to make sense of the reasons for such differential treatment towards her and her family. It is certainly a tough realisation to observe and Kiawentiio convincingly delivers. Beans’ journey is thus captivating to follow as she ultimately learns to be tougher to navigate her way through the multi-faceted dimensions of her life. Sadly, having her Mohawk community peers tease her for having a desire to attend a new school deemed to be too ‘white’ is evidence of yet another painful experience faced as an indigenous teenager in that quest to belong.

Deer successfully presents Beans’ inner conflict and intersectionality as a parallel to the Oka crisis given the way that it tore apart Quebec and Canada in 1990. The film is faithful to the events and uses news footage to unveil that some protesters, during the crisis, were angered by the disruption to their daily lives in Quebec and others were sympathetic to the plight of the Mohawk in their fight for equality and the recognition of their land. However, the emotional impact within this slice of life perspective provides that realisation of the constant fight for rights despite much of the actual fighting occurring off camera. As such, there are moments where the film’s overall message seems confused given its limitations from a child’s point of view.

Beans is a refreshing outlook within the coming of age genre due to its insight into the indigenous communities and the Oka Crisis. Hopefully, films such as Beans will raise that awareness of the need for indigenous communities to assert their rights and the film will certainly provide food for thought. Beans provides an indigenous narrative that fills that storytelling gap and will hopefully pave the way for more authentic modern day stories from indigenous communities to be confidently represented on screen to Deer’s credit.



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