'Beans': Tracey Deer's exceptional movie puts a spotlight on how the Oka Crisis led to her own 'dark adolescence'

The movie Beans from Canadian filmmaker Tracey Deer, which has received extensive international praise, recognition and awards since its premiere at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), is finally opening in theatres in Toronto, Vancouver, Halifax, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Regina, Saskatoon, Calgary, Edmonton and Victoria on July 23.

“I lived it when I was 12 and I vowed at 12 that one day when I am a film director, when I fulfill my crazy dream, this is a story I want to tell,” Deer told Yahoo Canada.

“Throughout that journey there have been plenty of people that have told me that my dream was stupid and it was impossible, and to just have persevered through all of that to now be here, it's incredibly rewarding, fulfilling, healing, soothing, comforting.”

Kiawentiio as Beans, Violah Beauvais as Ruby, Rainbow Dickerson as Lily. (Photo courtesy of EMAFilms)
Kiawentiio as Beans, Violah Beauvais as Ruby, Rainbow Dickerson as Lily. (Photo courtesy of EMAFilms)

This coming-of-age story is centred around 12-year-old Mohawk girl Tekehentahkhwa, but everyone calls her Beans (played by the exceptional Kiawentiio), who lives in Quebec during the 1990 Oka Crisis.

What is the Oka Crisis?

The 78-day standoff near the town of Oka between Mohawk protesters and police followed plans for a housing development and golf course expansion over the Kanesatake Mohawk reserve.

Through the title character and her family, Beans’ parents played Rainbow Dickerson and Joel Montgrand, and little sister Ruby (Violah Beauvais), Deer expertly and honestly shines a spotlight on the racism, discrimination, activism and violence of the Oka Crisis in a way you’ve never seen before - but need to.

This is all tackled while the audience also follows Beans’ journey to enter her teen years, including navigating new friendships, peer and societal pressures.

Kiawentiio explained to Yahoo Canada that it was helpful for the young actor to have Deer to refer back to, to know exactly what she was feeling at that time and what was “in her head.”

“She knows exactly how to translate that, to tell me exactly what she sees,” Kiawentiio said. “It was a little nerve-wracking, her being the one that some of these things are based on because I just wanted to have it exactly right, and I didn't want to disappoint or not reach expectations.”

Not meeting expectations is definitely not something Kiawentiio has to be worried about, with Deer describing her as “incredibly in tune with her emotions, very sensitive, very brave.”

Sometimes Kiawentiio didn’t even have another actor to play off of. In one particularly emotional scene where Beans is in the car with mother and sister, behind the scenes they were just tennis balls and Kiawentiio had to entirely use her imagination to portray this exceptionally heartbreaking moment.

Director & co-writer Tracey Deer on set of BEANS. (Photo by Sebastien Raymond)
Director & co-writer Tracey Deer on set of BEANS. (Photo by Sebastien Raymond)

'I know the detrimental effects that these events had on me'

As one can expect the subject matter of this film is quite heavy, while it does still have some perfectly timed lighter moments. For Deer who lived these moments, the filmmaker really took the time to make sure the recreations in this movie did traumatize, or re-traumatize, anyone on set.

“I know the detrimental effects that these events had on me, I had a very dark adolescence and I've had so much therapy in the years since, and even to this day, to figure out my issues that all stem from really that summer,” Deer said. “It was my number one concern to figure out, how do we shoot this to keep everyone safe and for us to have fun every single day.”

“We had support workers with us in case anyone needed it and that was not just for the actors, but for the crew as well. We also had very specific shooting plans so that the kids were removed from a lot of the violence, as much as possible… The energy with which we worked was really crucial and my team and all of those extras, their marching orders every day [were], we're having a good time, your attitude is super important, we are responsible for these kids but we are also responsible for everyone that we're welcoming onto our set.”

Deer’s personal connection and commitment to this story shines through entirely. As you watch Beans unfold, you can tell that there was exceptional consideration and care put towards this story, and the characters, in a way that not many films are able to execute.

This is a very special movie, an extraordinary movie, that everyone should watch, but particularly Canadians as we work to be honest about and reconcile with Canada’s historic failures to address racism, discrimination and oppression of Indigenous People.