Packaged with Beans was the New Zealand short film Bub. The short observes a young boy who finds himself alone in his grandmother’s house. The short is cute, and the young boy’s acting is extremely realistic. Beyond that, though, there was little substance to the short. Bud is an interesting sequence, but it does not stand alone even as a short film.
Mohawk director Tracey Deer drew upon her personal experiences in creating her narrative feature debut. Set amid the Oka Crisis, Beans is a coming-of-age story heavily influenced by external situations. The film’s themes of racism and violence permeate into the pubescent girl’s demeanor and alter her personality more than hormones along ever could. In using such a volatile setting, Deer explores the impact of hate on the most innocent.
Tekahentahkhwa (Kiawentiio), who goes by Beans, is a 12-year-old Mohawk girl who begins the film interviewing for a prestigious prep school off her reservation. After presumably bombing the interview, she and her mother Lily (Rainbow Dickerson) return to the reservation and participate in an early protest against the Quebec government’s seizing of Mohawk land to build a golf course. Things take a turn towards the violent and Beans is rushed home. Over the next weeks, Beans’s natural preteen rebellion bring her into close contact with the fighting. Under the constant reminder of white supremacy from the ongoing crisis, her coming-of-age is corrupted into something significantly more sinister.
Beans is not a subtle movie. The white Quebecers are over the top in their expressions of hatred. They decline to speak in dog whistles and instead spit blatant white supremacist ideas in the Mohawk people’s faces. Similarly, the impact that these events have on Beans are exaggerated. Her immediate violent turn is extreme and not realistic in the most literal sense. For Deer though, the exaggerations are the point. Indigenous stories are seldom told, and indigenous treaties are frequently broken to little coverage. Beans may wear its message on its sleeve, but when no one listens to a quiet telling of a people’s story, they have no choice but to yell.
In a world without context, Beans as a film screams its message rather than unveil it through the cinematic language. However, Tracey Deer knows that her people’s story has gone unheard for so long that an aggressive storytelling stance must seem necessary to her. When there is so much ignorance otherwise, sometimes a blunt instrument is the most effective.