A coming of age story from a little-seen historical and cultural perspective, centred on an indigenous girl growing up in a Mohawk community in a turbulent Quebec in the summer of 1990.
Tekahentahkhwa (Kiawenti:io) is 12 years old in the summer of 1990. She’s known as Beans, and allows people to call her this if they can’t (or are unwilling to) learn to pronounce her name correctly. This, though, becomes the least of her problems, as her Mohawk community enters into a violent standoff with government forces over the plan to develop a golf course on Mohawk sacred land.
Writer/director Tracey Deer has direct experience of this event, known as the Oka Crisis, as she lived through it herself as a 12-year-old of the Mohawk Nation. She says this was the catalyst for her wanting to become a filmmaker.
Beans is a story told entirely from the perspective of a 12-year-old First Nations girl, and there is barely a scene in which Kiawenti:io isn’t present. On the one hand, Beans is working out the growing-up part of life. Against her parents’ wishes, she starts hanging out with some older youths to shake off her goody-two-shoes tag and become tougher, and we can see that her relatively comfortable home life is very different from that of her new-found ‘friends’. On the other hand, the standoff over the rights to the land begins to directly affect her family’s safety. Beans finds herself at the centre of violent racial hatred which forces her to embrace her Mohawk heritage and community in a more strident manner.
The narrative scenes are punctuated with actual television news footage from the time, not only from on-screen television and radio broadcasts from the corner of the family’s living room but also interspersed reportage. This footage presents a very unpleasant side of the non-indigenous Canadians who are interviewed, and also sadly (and deliberately) mirrors similar reporting from various towns across the US in the past couple of years. The only annoying factor in these sections is the inclusion of some unnecessary moody music, presumably to elevate the confrontational tone of events. But the words of the white Canadians are terrifying enough in themselves, and the music could easily have been dispensed with, without any loss of impact.
In a film from the point of view of a 12-year-old, the casting of Beans is clearly key; young actor Kiawenti:io is wonderful in the role. Beans is a mix of complex thoughts and emotions as she begins to formulate the adult version of herself that she is growing into. She has some lovely scenes as a caring and funny older sister, then transitions to a young girl feeling some pretty choice swear words on her lips for the first time before railing against the racism that she experiences. If Kiawenti:io chooses to pursue an acting career after this, she has much to offer.
Beans manages to combine a seldom-seen type of coming-of-age story with some hard-hitting social history, and it is a welcome alternative to some of the more trite, mainstream growing-up stories generally on offer. It deserves to be seen.