It’s not necessarily a good sign to refer to a film as ‘timely’.
It’s not that the term is a description of a film’s poor quality. (Often, it’s the opposite, in fact.) However, the use of ‘timely’ usually refers to the fact that the issues of injustice raised within the film are still relevant in today’s culture, rightly or wrongly. In this way, the film at hand usually takes an additional meaning as a cry for help for a group who needs to be heard in a time of suffering.
Beans is one of these films.
Set against the drama of the Oka Crisis of 1990, Beans (Kiawentiio Tarbell) is a young girl who lives on the Mohawk reserve of Kahnawa:ke, Quebec. Staying with her loving parents (Rainbow Dickerson and Joel Montgrand) and her little sister (Violah Beauvais), Beans lives a life of innocence and safety on the reserve. However, when a proposed expansion to a golf course threatens their burial ground, an armed stand-off develops between the Canadian government and Mohawk population, exposing the racist undercurrents of the local population against the Indigenous population. Unprepared for the hatred that she experiences, Beans must re-examine who she is and transform herself into her own kind of warrior.
Coming at a time when injustices against the Indigenous population lie at the forefront of Canadian conversations, Beansis a stunning and thought-provoking examination of history from an alternate perspective. While the coverage surrounding the Oka Crisis frequently portrayed the Mohawk people as villains, Beans tells the story through the eyes of the oppressed. (Incidentally, Deer highlights this false narrative by the media by using actual news coverage from the time.) In doing so, writer/director Tracey Deer offers an intimate story from the perspective of someone who lived through it herself as a youth. Though the characters are fictional, the story takes pages out of her experiences and reframes the incident through the eyes of innocence.
Caught between her family and the terrifying events that swirl around her, Beans’ world is shaken by the unjust hatred thrust upon them. By choosing to tell the story through the eyes of young Beans, the events within the film become even more horrifying for the viewer at times. (This is especially true in one particular moment where her family is being harassed within their car, a scene which may be one of the most harrowing onscreen moments of the year.)
A film this intense requires a lot from its young star but Deer has found an incredible talent in young Kiawentiio. As Beans, Kiawentiio absolutely shines. Despite being featured in almost every scene, she shows a maturity in her performance that grounds the film. Balancing both youthful innocence and justifiable rage behind her eyes, the actress feels present throughout the film which leans into its authenticity.
As she navigates the painful events that unravel before her, Beans’ journey is very much a battle for her soul. After bearing witness to the racist attacks at the hands of local citizens, Beans is left without answers. Though she has lived a relatively quiet life on the reserve, her experiences of the horrors of injustice force her to re-evaluate the way she sees the world. When she falls in with a group of young rebels who refuse to accept the behaviour that they’ve seen, they teach her how to hate her oppressors and take action against them. At the same time though, Beans is also told by her mother that she needs to be ‘better than they say she is’ by taking a more peaceful approach to insurrection. For her mother, the best response to these racist attacks is to demonstrate her integrity by the strength of her character as opposed to violence.
In this way, Deer takes an interesting approach to the conversation surrounding the proper responses to injustice. Instead of advocating for either method as the correct one, Deer recognizes the need for both non-violence and force. Through Beans’ journey, she points out that, while the non-violent approach may be best, there are also times when other methods may be necessary in order to bring about change. As a result, Deer manages to hold both responses in tension with one another with grace and understanding.
Sharply written and executed, Beans is easily one of the best (and most important) Canadian films of the year. By sharing her experiences through the eyes of young Beans, writer/director Deer has created a story that’s both personal and poignant. Most importantly though, her emphasis on racial injustice against Canada’s Indigenous population provides an added layer for a country seeking to chart a new path of healing for a nation torn apart by the pain of the past.
In short, Beans provides a voice that is timely.
Beans is available in theatres on Friday, July 23rd, 2021.