During a Zoom interview from her home outside of Montreal, Tracey Deer sometimes uses the word “we” instead of “I” to describe the journey that led her to make the dramatic feature film. Beans.
The Oka Crisis tells a powerful coming of age story
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Posted: 03:00 on July 23, 2021
The title of the film, Beans, is a cute nickname for a pretty 12 year old Mohawk girl with a much more dignified traditional name: Tekehentahkhwa.
As in the movie, the name is disarming. By these stealthy means, it allows difficult material – both personal and historical – and very strong emotions to enter the cinematic experience.
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It is not an assignment. Beans tells the story of a 12-year-old girl who comes of age amid the rage and racism of the 1990 Oka Crisis, who saw a community in the Quebec suburbs engage in a 78-day deadlock with the Mohawk community on a golf course expansion project that would absorb a traditional cemetery.
Deer uses the collective pronoun, she explains, as a way of meaning that she is simultaneously talking about her adult self and her younger self, portrayed in the film by the supernaturally moving young Mohawk actress Kiawentiio.
“I keep saying ‘we’,” she said. “It’s me and the 12 year old girl in me.”
This little girl went through terrible things during those 78 days, although Deer is quick to recognize that her own experience sometimes drifts away from the experiences of her heroine.
“The movie begins with the title ‘Inspired by Real Events’ because the events you see are recreations of historical moments,” says Deer. “All of those moments happened, but personally I wasn’t at all of them. I was at some of them.
“For the sake of the trip and the story, I put her in certain situations that I haven’t experienced directly,” she says.
“What is inspired by my coming of age is really her emotional line. Everything that she crosses emotionally is what I experienced emotionally.”
In the opening minutes of the film, we see Tekehentahkhwa – her name is “Beans” – sitting next to her mother Lily (Rainbow Dickerson) in an interview with the principal of a posh Montreal high school that Beans wants to attend. She tells the principal that she aspires to be a doctor or a lawyer but secretly aspires to be an artist.
Deer herself was more precise in her ambitions.