Every year I look forward to attending TIFF Next Wave and spending a fun weekend with friends watching films chosen by a committee of twelve high school students. It’s a festival that supports and helps to grow the next generation of film enthusiasts and filmmakers. Their stories are the ones being told on the screen. It gives otherwise marginalized voices in the film industry a chance to share their stories and give them opportunities to explore the industry through their eyes.
Nothing exemplifies this more than the movie Beans, directed by Tracey Deer. I heard a lot of buzz around this film during the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival, but unfortunately didn’t get a chance to watch it. The film follows a twelve year old Mohawk girl called Beans who is balancing between innocent childhood and reckless adolescence. She is forced to grow up fast as she becomes tough in the midst of the Oka Crisis. Which occurred in the summer of 1990 and was a turbulent Indigenous uprising that tore Quebec and Canada apart for 78 days.
It’s essentially a coming of age story that showcases Beans’ side of the story, or in this case Tracey Deer’s story as it was based around her childhood. The media painted this image of the Indigenous people, specifically, the Mohawk Nation of Kanesatake and Kahnawà:ke, as terrorists. It’s not a historic drama of the Oka Crisis. While it touches upon it and is the basis for the story, it mostly focuses on Beans, growing up in that time period and coming to terms with who she is. I’ve seen some people criticize it for focusing too much on Beans’ growing up, but doesn’t a young Indigenous girl deserve her own coming of age story? This film isn’t meant to provide a historical retelling of the Oka Crisis, it’s meant to showcase difficulties of growing up as an Indigenous woman, which helps her to learn lessons and grow. Indigenous stories are not defined only as trauma and tragedy. It means something entirely to have stories of Indigenous people, made by Indigenous filmmakers, on the screen where they fall in love, experience heartbreak, fight with their families, and learn about how they fit into the world. You know, things a girl on the brink of being a teenager in a coming of age film would experience.
I laughed, cried, and got angry with Beans. I saw the world through her eyes. It’s an incredibly moving film that I will never forget. This film shows why representation and culturally-specific storytelling needs to be a vital part of cinema. As Tracey Deer said about her films, “I want all of my people to thrive, not merely survive. That’s why I tell stories.”