The title of the movie, Beans, is a cute nickname for a cute 12-year-old Mohawk girl with a considerably more dignified traditional name: Tekehentahkhwa.
As with the movie, the name is disarming. By these stealthy means, it allows some tough material — both personal and historical — and very strong emotions into the movie experience.
MOVIE REVIEWClick to Expand
Starring Kiawentiio and Rainbow Dickerson
• 92 minutes
★★★1/2 out of five
It’s a first dramatic feature for director/co-writer Tracey Deer, whose past work has been in the field of TV comedy (the APTN series Mohawk Girls). For this film, Deer excavated some of her own experiences, coming of age during the so-called Oka crisis of 1990, a 78-day armed standoff between Mohawk protesters and an escalating opposing force including the Quebec police, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and ultimately the Canadian Army.
The crux of the conflict was a few acres of land desired by the Oka community to transform its nine-hole golf course to 18 holes. For that purpose, they needed to level an ancient forest, known on the adjacent Kanesatake Mohawk reserve as "the Pines."
The Mohawks’ peaceful process turned bloody, and that summer saw an explosion of violence and overt racism that had apparently been, like the occupants of that cemetery, long-buried. (For more historical context, check out Alanis Obomsawin’s definitive documentary, Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance.)
We are introduced to Beans (portrayed the very talented actor Kiawentiio) and her mother as they visit an apparently wealthy school where Beans intends to fulfil her private ambitions. (She tells the principal she wants to be a doctor or lawyer, but she really wants to be an artist.) Beans’ mother Lily (Rainbow Dickerson), who works in Montreal’s corporate sector, looks on approvingly.
But things take a turn for the cataclysmic when conflict erupts after the mayor of Oka called in the provincial police to forcibly remove the protesters guarding the burial ground. In the subsequent shootout, a police officer was killed. The Mohawks erected a barricade on the highway leading into Kanesatake, at the Mercier Bridge, which affected thousands of commuters working in Montreal. The inconvenience apparently brought out the worst in many white Quebecers.
Beans herself, on the cusp of womanhood, sees her adolescent issues exacerbated by the conflict. She lives in fear of a clique of neighbouring tough kids, but resolves to hang out with them, learning to be as tough as the formidable April (Paulina Alexis) while at the same time enjoying proximity to her swaggering brother Hank (D’Pharaoh McKay Woon-A-Tai).
As the conflict escalates, so do our heroine’s personal crises, including her relationship with her mother, who is already dangerously pregnant when the story begins.
Much of the film hinges on the young actress in the title role, and Kiawentiio, herself a young Mohawk from the Akwesasne community, is up to the challenge, credibly marking her character’s transition from innocence to heart-rending experience.
Beans comes to cinemas heaped with laurels, including a best motion picture award from the Canadian Screen Awards. But at the same time, it arrives as another timely reminder that Canada is a long way from putting our racism issues behind us.
In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.