Tracey Deer’s Beans is a flawed but incredibly moving about a 12-year-old Mohawk girl’s political awakening during the Oka crisis.
Tracey Deer’s feature debut, Beans, is a prime example of how a deeply flawed film can still be incredibly moving and powerful. Despite being weighed down by stilted dialogue and editing, often underdeveloped characters, and traumatic subplots that are raised and dropped far too quickly, I can’t stop thinking about Beans. Set during the Oka crisis, it’s the story of 12-year-old Beans (Kiawentiio) as she realises the sheer amount of hate directed at Indigenous people by settlers. As a Mohawk girl living on a Mohawk reserve, she is directly affected by the crisis, dealing with the anger and violence of settlers toward her, which in turn, makes her angry — at herself, the world, and her family.
There are scenes where Deer makes this incredibly visceral, usually when dialogue is at a minimum, that have left an indelible mark on me. Beans and her sister gather golf balls in the quiet of a traditional burial ground just metres away from the protest, only to be interrupted by the sound of shots being fired, and chaos ensuing. There’s a heartbreaking moment when Beans starts to inflict pain on herself, having been told it will help her cope. Most haunting is the scene when Beans’s mother, Lily (Rainbow Dickerson), drives her family away from the reserve, and is met with settlers throwing rocks at the car, trying to balance driving safely, utter terror, and protecting her children.
Beans never quite finds its footing, undecided whether it’s a film for children or teens given the content dealt with, but it’s one of the only screen stories about an Indigenous child rather than teenagers or adults. While I wish certain aspects were better explored, and the parents allowed more leeway to talk to their kids about the realities of colonialism, this is a powerful work. And I look forward to seeing what Deer does next.