Film Review

Beans. Dramatic film, directed by Tracey Deer. EMA Films, 2020. 92 min. 2020 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), Toronto and online, September 10–21, 2020

  • Skylee-Storm Hogan-Stacey

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  • Skylee-Storm Hogan-Stacey
    Historian, Know History

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Cover of Toward Person-Centred Archival Theory and Praxis, Number 94, Fall–Winter 2022, pp. 5-299, Archivaria

Inspired by her own childhood experiences, Director Tracey Deer’s 2020 film Beans chronicles the Oka Crisis of 1990 from the perspective of Kahnawa’kehró:non (Kahnawá:ke Mohawks). Beans captures a life-changing time in Kahnawá:ke when the community became associated with armed conflict, tanks, barbed wire, and barricades. Using both archival footage and dramatic re-enactments, Deer showcases the truth of the trauma and violence that many Kahnawa’kehró:non still carry with them today. Beans is a chance for Kahnawa’kehró:non to present their memory of events. Beans, a bubbly, sweet overachiever, learns while watching assaults on her family and community that some people will hate you just for being Indigenous. Initially, she feeds into that hate and replicates it when she falls in with a tough, older girl named April (Paulina Alexis), who teaches Beans that “if you can’t feel pain, no one can hurt you.” April discourages Beans from attending an off- reserve private school, showing anger and contempt for that “white school.” When the film introduces Beans, she is at an interview for that private school. Beans slowly repeats her name, Tekehentahkhwa, to the principal until she gives up and offers her nickname, Beans, to make it easier. This scene feels real, and it portrays an experience that many young Indigenous people with traditional names have. The discomfort on her mother’s face as Beans compromises her identity shows just how naive Beans is at the start of the story and how much Beans wants others to like her as someone she is not. Looming in the background are the increasing tensions at the Pines in Kanesatake, tensions that first appear on a television screen in the family living room. In this scene, Deer cuts one of the actors into archival footage, blending the footage almost seamlessly into the fictionalized dramatization. Some critical responses to Beans note that the story focus shifts from the coming-of-age narrative to the broader issue of the Oka Crisis. However, as Deer shows in this transition, in the lives of Indigenous people, political conflicts and responses of resistance are not separate from everyday life: they are all connected. A pattern of innocent joy followed by crushing reality is threaded throughout Beans. The plot follows Beans and her sister Ruby (Violah Beauvais) as their mother, Lily (Rainbow Dickerson), takes them to the protest camp – a journey Ruby dubs a “road trip.” The Pines protest camp is full of women, children, food, and laughter. This protest camp is similar to any Indigenous-led camp we would see today. Beans and Ruby, affectionately known as Ru, are unaware of the danger of the situation. Like the rest of the camp, they are not there for violence but to take up space on their lands and protect their ancestors’ territory and sacred burial grounds – which Beans and Ru stumble upon while searching for firewood. The girls begin to clean up the golf balls littered among the tombstones, and they gather wildflowers to place on the graves in the quiet of the Pines. A shot rings out, and then another. The girls run back through the camp with gunshots, tear gas, and concussion grenades going off all around them. It is jarring against the quiet of the previous scene. The audience can feel the anxiety and fear of people who were peaceful just moments before – people who brought their children to the land in peace. On the way back to Kahnawá:ke, the car radio plays an archival news broadcast about the altercation they had been right in the middle of and the death of a Sûreté du Québec (SQ) officer. Beans …