Among them is April (Paulina Alexis), who forms a bond with Beans. She tries to toughen the young girl up by whipping her legs with a stick. Yearning to be accepted, Beans dresses in skimpy outfits, curses, parties, and taunts the cops. Hormones rage, leading to an assault on a helpless child and a tense near-rape situation. Before it all ends on an uplifting note, Beans culminates in its young protagonist screaming, “F*ck white people!” Tekahentahkhwa may have just left Beans behind.
The earnest film is not devoid of flaws. Formulaic, saccharine stretches and awkward stumbles intermittently reveal Deer’s lack of experience threading a tonally-consistent cinematic narrative. The trajectory of the unfolding protests against which the story is set becomes confusing. We piece what we can from flashes of archival footage, of which there are too many – good luck figuring out what happened when to whom.
“[Kiawentiio] owns this film; she’s a talent to watch…”
The director makes up for it with heart and instances of verisimilitude. Having lived through the conflict at the age of 12, Deer views it all, unfiltered, through the eyes of her heroine. She remembers (I assume) what it feels like to be stricken by puberty, to be stuck between two arguing parents, to drive through a horde of seething, violent racists while getting pummeled by rocks. Those real-life experiences translate to an underlying gravitas and authentic emotions that are consistently present throughout Beans.
Kiawentiio is marvelous, maintaining her innocence even as she outwardly morphs into a rebellious teenager. Beans getting comfortable with cursing in front of a mirror marks one of the film’s highlights, as is Bean suddenly confronting two apathetic cops or attempting to muffle her sobs in the bathroom. The prodigious actress owns the film; she’s a talent to watch.
Beans achieves the laudable task of astutely dealing with an assortment of pertinent issues. It’s about being threatened by your fellow humans, having enough of it, and standing up to your rights. It’s about the values that parents impart upon their children and how misguided those values may become from constant exposure to volatile behavior. When the world rejects you, you have no choice but to stick with your own people. Here’s hoping audiences worldwide embrace Tracey Deer’s Beans.
Beans screened at the 2021 Berlin International Film Festival.
"…when the world rejects you, you have no choice but to stick with your own."