Beans star Kiawentiio starts her dramatic journey strong

A photo of Kiawentiio sitting on a golf cart

Tracey Deer’s debut feature Beans begins and ends with the film’s 12-year-old Mohawk protagonist introducing herself to white people.

The contrasting scenes show the huge dramatic and personal journey Tekehentahkhwa (nicknamed “Beans”) has travelled. But none of this would register without the committed, authentic performance by its young actor, Kiawentiio.

The film is a coming-of-age picture set against the 1990 Oka crisis, in which Quebec’s Indigenous communities faced off against police, the military and citizens because of the proposed expansion of a golf course onto Mohawk burial ground. Deer experienced the brutality and racism of the Oka crisis first-hand as a 12-year-old, something she obviously brought to the film.

“It was a huge help that it was Tracey’s story,” says Kiawentiio, on a Zoom call from her home in Akwesasne, Ontario.

“But it was two-sided. I felt pressure because it was her story and I wanted to get it exactly right. But it was helpful because it was her experience and she could tell me exactly what she was feeling.”

The film recounts some horrific scenes – in one, Beans, her mother (Rainbow Dickerson) and sister (Violah Beauvais) are in a car when Quebeckers throw rocks through the windows.

 “Tracey’s number one priority was making us feel comfortable on set,” says the young actor about those scenes.

“For the drivers in front of us – some of the actors driving had probably lived through it, too, or had family members affected by the crisis. Tracey didn’t want anybody to be re-traumatized. Every time we would reset, the actors would cheer at us and smile, because they didn’t want us to think they were actually
like the people they were portraying.”

As for the scene in the motel room, Deer helped lead Kiawentiio through the mix of feelings.

“She’d say to me, ‘Oh, and you’re so mad about this… and this… ,’” says the actor. “She’d talk me through these emotions.”

Kiawenttio's shadow on green grass from on top of a golf cart

While only 14 – she turns 15 at the end of the month – Kiawentiio, like the aspiring-artist character she plays, has many talents.

Besides acting – her breakthrough came when she was cast in the third season of Anne With An E – she’s also a visual artist and a singer/songwriter. She released her first EP, In My Head, last month. During the making of Beans, she wrote a song called Light At The End; the creative team was so impressed with it that they included it as the film’s closing credits music.

She has a small role in the new sitcom, Rutherford Falls, which begins airing on April 22. One of the highlights from that was meeting Indigenous actor Michael Greyeyes, whom she calls “nice and sweet and funny – a really cool role model.”

While she’s busy as a grade 10 student and isn’t sure what artistic practice to follow, she does have one acting fantasy.

“It would be a dream if I could work on Avatar: The Last Airbender,” she says. “I’m dying to be Katara.”

I google the character and learn about her fierce, heroic journey. Oh yeah. It’ll happen.

Lockdowns meant we couldn’t host the usual photoshoot our annual Canada’s Rising Screen Stars feature. So we sent this year’s actors and filmmakers disposable cameras to shoot themselves. All photos by Kiawentiio, mom Barbara Tarbell and dad Corey Tarbell.

Canada’s Rising Screen Stars 2021

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Montreal’s Caroline Monnet blurs boundaries between film and fine art

Violation duo Madeleine Sims-Fewer and Dusty Mancinelli get intense


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