Beans is a riveting, authentic, and mesmerizing coming of age story about a 12-year-old Mohawk girl, Tekehentahkhwa, also known as Beans, brilliantly played by Kiawentiio Tarbell
The film takes place in 1990 during the Oka Crisis, a 78-day standoff between the Mohawk people and the town of Oka, Quebec, and the Canadian government, as the Mohawk community protested a golf course being built on a sacred burial ground.
A FIGHT ON BOTH FRONTS
Dreaming of attending Queens Heights Academy to one day become a doctor or a lawyer, Beans must conduct herself properly during an interview with a woman who can’t properly pronounce her name. She also wants to help with the cause along with her little sister, Ruby (Violah Beauvais). Her very pregnant mother, Lily, (Rainbow Dickerson), and father, Gary, (Jay Cardinal Villeneuve) are heavily involved. They make barricades and provide much-needed security as they must evade the police, dodge bullets, and run through the forest to safety.
Beans and Ruby observe their mother and the other women of the Mohawk community stand in the middle of the road to prevent any violence between their men and police as they point guns at each other. Even though they try their best to cooperate, her mother and older cousin, are denied food at the local grocery store because of their race. To make matters worse, they are then ambushed by an angry racist mob at the dock as they try to go home.
BULLY TO ALLY
With all the racism around her, Beans wants to toughen up and fight back. So, she decides to befriend older teens who have previously bullied her. She meets April (Paulina Alexis), who takes Beans under her wing and teaches her how to be tough and take the pain as well as dish it out. Beans starts to develop a crush on April’s brother, Hank (D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai), so she decides to mature her look.
The racial tension is at a boiling point as Lily takes Beans and Ruby away from the mayhem. However, as they try to flee, some protestors throw rocks at the car. Sheer panic is seen on their faces as they drive away.
SELF-DESTRUCTION TO SELF LOVE
Once they are out of harm’s way, Beans throws a rock at a police car because she is fed up with their inaction to protect her community. She even uses self-harm to try and relieve the physical and emotional pain. She reunites with April and Hank at a hotel. They hang out, drink and Beans kisses Hank in a closet during a game of ‘Truth or Dare’. April tells her that she is “too young”, but Beans doesn’t care.
As they are in the hotel game room, Beans spots a girl who gives them a funny look. She beats the girl up because of all the turmoil and racism around her. Her family, along with April and Hank, is forced out of the motel. On their way home, they watch an angry mob burn a doll representing the indigenous community. They flee their car as the mob continues to pursue them on foot. Beans, her family, and friends cross a river to evade them and make their way back home.
Her family is severely disappointed in her actions of late, so Beans decides to visit her friends. Hanks asks her to get firewood with him alone, but he demands a sexual favor from her, but she doesn’t give in. Beans confides in April, and it is revealed that April is regularly sexually assaulted by her father. Beans learns to find the warrior in herself as she sees hope through the birth of her brother, getting April out of her living situation, seeing a resolution of the Oka Crisis, and attending Queens Heights Academy with a new sense of pride.
Real archival footage of the Oka crisis is interwoven to properly showcase the racism, resilience, and hope during this time. The acting is phenomenal, and the soundtrack brings out the intense and dramatic moments when the occasion calls for it.
Being director Tracey Deer’s feature film debut, Beans is a triumph. It’s charming, thought-provoking, and a breath of fresh air. Deer also adds a semi-autobiographical element to the film, showcasing similar struggles and hopefulness that she experienced as a child during the Oka Crisis. This is what makes it so powerful and relevant. Beans takes a deep look into the struggle of a young indigenous girl’s raw and unique perspective of the ever-changing world around her, which is refreshing and necessary.
Rating: 4 out of 5