Beans is a coming-of-age dramedy set during the summer of 1990, against a climate of Indigenous uprisings that lasted for 78 days and became known as the Oka Crisis. While I had not heard about this particular event beforehand, racial tensions and prejudice against a whole group of people is always upsetting to see unfold. Using this tumultuous time as a backdrop, director Tracy Deer collaborates with writer Meredith Vuchnich to create a passionate and personal story about growing up amid crisis and turmoil.
Beans (Kiawentiio) isn’t her full name, but that is just what everyone likes to call her. Her mom (Rainbow Dickerson) is an executive assistant, and Beans has dreams of becoming a doctor or lawyer. She is torn between the rich snooty world her mother wants her to become part of and the roots of her heritage that her dad (Joel Montgrand) would prefer Beans embrace. When a squad raids a local occupied forest to fend off protestors, the Mohawks begin fortifying. The political situation is unnerving—Beans and her family always have to be on their toes because of their nationality, and the awful people who would be happier if they just did not exist are aggravating. With the media painting them as terrorists and their basic human rights savagely violated, Beans is forced to make a dangerous leap from the innocence of her childhood to the recklessness of adolescence.
Vandalized cars and documentary-style footage of police clashes serve to amp up the already tense mood. Seeing Beans grow up amongst all the craziness unfolding around her is often heartbreaking to watch. The comedy comes in Beans’ interactions with others, including her sister, her mom, and spunky teen April (Paulina Alexis) who wants to toughen her up. In a moment of uncertainty, Beans offers up food: stolen fruit roll-ups. While this might not be the most original dramedy you ever watch, Beans captures a snapshot in the life of a preteen girl, an essential time period inspired by Tracy Deer’s personal experiences.
Beans screened virtually at the Provincetown Film Festival, June 16-25.