I’ve seen several films this week (virtually) at TIFF – among them I Care A Lot, which Sarah just reviewed yesterday. It’s dark, it’s hilarious, and Rosamund Pike is exhilarating, I’m obsessed with her. But the best film I’ve seen at TIFF this year as we near the end of the festival is Beans, written and directed by Tracey Deer, her first feature. It’s a coming-of-age story about a 12-year-old girl called Tekehentahkhwa, aka “Beans”, growing up against the backdrop of the Oka crisis inspired by Deer’s own upbringing.
In 1990, two Mohawk communities protested plans to expand a golf course on sacred Indigenous land by blocking access to the area. The Canadian government sent police in to force them to take down the barricades. When that ended up being unsuccessful, the government in turn restricted access on the other side. The standoff itself lasted over two months but it’s been hundreds of years for Indigenous people in this country, as what was theirs was stolen, their resources depleted, their families torn apart, their traditions and heritage disrespected and erased from history books. This is a national shame that many Canadians are still unwilling to admit, let alone attempt to address. On top of that, even for those of us who acknowledge our country’s horrific past, our complacency has only compounded the legacy of injustice.
It’s one thing to hear or read about this truth in the news, it’s another to see it play out in a film, through the eyes of a girl on the cusp of adolescence. She’s figuring out new friendships, she’s developing her first crush, she’s changing the way she sees herself and how she wants others to see her. She’s redefining all the relationships in her life – with her family, with her community, and most importantly with herself. All of these are accessible experiences, no matter who you are. But for Beans, this is happening as she’s beginning to understand the reality of her identity, both the casual and violent racism that she will face as an Indigenous person navigating colonised spaces. In other words… universal AND specific.
This is exactly what Tracey Deer has achieved in Beans – Beans is a teenager just trying to figure it out. She’s also a Mohawk girl trying to survive. Relating to her on a universal level builds empathy for her specific circumstances. That is the power of great storytelling. And the impact is tripled when you put your story in the hands of a talent like Kiawentiio who plays Beans. Her performance is so f-cking good, the industry should be lining up to cast her in whatever they can.
As for Tracey, and remember though she’s written and produced for television, this is her directorial debut. Earlier this week she was the recipient of the TIFF Emerging Talent Award and during her acceptance speech she paid tribute to her mother, Angela:
“My mother is always right. And so if my mother believed I could do it, then I believed I could do it. And that was such an important message to receive. This is something all of our Indigenous kids need to hear. Their dreams are important, their voice is important. And together we need to make a society that's safe for them. So I want to dedicate this award to them, and to their future.”
How do you make that dream come true? Tracey is doing it through art. Click here to read Kathleen’s interview with Tracey at Refinery29. The trailer for Beans is below. If you get a chance to, this is the must-see film of the Toronto International Film Festival 2020.
Yours in gossip,