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"Beans" forces us to choose sides in drama of tragic Oka standoff


Starring Kiawentiio, Rainbow Dickerson, Violah Beauvais, Paulina Alexis, D’Pharaoh McKay Woon-A-Tai, Joel Montgrand, Taio Gélinas, Brittany Leborgne, Kelly Beaudoin, Jay Cardinal Villeneuve, Dawn Ford and Ida Labillois-Montour. Written by Tracey Deer and Meredith Vuchnich. Directed by Tracey Deer. Opens Friday at the Varsity. 92 minutes. 14A


Peter Howell

Movie Critic

The prize-winning drama "Beans" interrogates Canadian history while illuminating a young girl's life.

Strong storytelling doubles as a tremendous showcase for the talents of young Mohawk actress Kiawentiio (TV's "Anne With an E.")

This arresting first feature by co-writer/director Tracey Deer, based on her personal memories and experiences, revisits a tragic incident of recent decades: the 1990 Oka Crisis, aka the Mohawk Resistance at Kanesatake, outside Montreal. The film has won multiple accolades since it premiered at TIFF 2020, among them the Canadian Screen Awards for Best Picture and Best First Feature.

The 78-day Oka standoff was prompted by Mohawk defiance of corporate plans — backed by the local mayor — to expand a golf course into a sacred burial site. Indigenous people and their supporters set up barricades and fought the Quebec and Canadian governments, as well as law enforcers from provincial police, the RCMP and the Canadian Army. One police officer died and innumerable lives were forever altered by the violent impasse, which to this day still hasn't been completely settled.

Dramatically drawn into the dispute are 12-year Beans (Kiawentiio), a Mohawk girl living with her father (Joel Montgrand), pregnant mother (Rainbow Dickerson) and younger sister (Violah Beauvais) on the Mohawk reserve Kahnawà:ke.

Until the crisis happened, Beans was enjoying an idyllic life and hoping to attend a private high school in an affluent white community. The racism and hatred she witnesses and confronts jolts her out of her innocence.

Bolstered by archival news footage of the Oka Crisis, "Beans" forces fair-minded viewers to choose a side — and if you're on the side of the authorities, think again. 🌓



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