Beans is the moniker by which the 12-year-old protagonist of this story goes, as many find it difficult to pronounce her real name, Tekahentahkhwa. The young Mohawk girl is courteous and accommodating, even to a fault. This changes when development plans to expand a golf course into an indigenous burial ground turn into a large-scale land dispute, in which Beans and her family fight on the front line for their rights as First Nations.
Tracey Deer’s feature debut combines the historical events of the Oka Crisis in the summer of 1990 with a well-meaning coming of age drama. After befriending April, a teenage girl from her community, the titular protagonist supposedly learns to stand up for herself, when in fact her people-pleasing is just transferred to different targets. The question of conformity that lies at the film’s heart is subject to a much larger debate, the magnitude of which exceeds the scope of a production targeting an adolescent audience.
In its attempt to make the civil rights of indigenous people accessible to a young viewership, Beans undoubtedly has a noble cause. However, there is a danger that comes with sanitising an experience like this: it leads to a potential trivialisation. April’s subplot is an example of the ineffectiveness of trying to package deep-seated trauma into a child-appropriate format.
Another shortcoming is that the dialogue and consequently the acting often feel contrived and artificial. It speaks volumes that in the picture’s most genuine moments, the main character doesn’t speak. Instead, with one sideways glance at her mother, she mimics her body language and joins her in a defiant stance against the Quebecois police.
Another successful scene is a haunting car ride through a rain of rocks that a congregation of Oka townspeople let descend upon the family. It touches on a raw nerve, as for the past year – at the very least – we have all been able to witness the ruthlessness of inconvenienced white people.
In sum, Beans will hopefully educate young audience members on the oppression that indigenous communities still face. The fact that this production’s cast and crew were comprised mainly of BIPOC and in particular Mohawk people is an important step towards inclusion in filmmaking.
Beans does not have a UK release date set.
For further information about the event visit the Berlin Film Festival website here.