Review: 'Beba' is Raw, Vulnerable, and Poetic

by Megan Kearns

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday June 24, 2022

'Beba'  (Source:NEON)

Families often contain a web of secrets and contradictions. In her intimate, confessional, and emotionally raw documentary, Rebeca Huntt, an Afro-Latina artist, untangles these threads, searching for truth as she chronicles her life and traces her family's origins.

"Beba" — the film's title and Rebeca's nickname, given by her mother — immediately feels like a different documentary: Unique and personal. Directed by Huntt and accompanied by her poetic narration, the film exudes a free-flowing, stream-of-consciousness rhythm. Filmed on 16mm, it evokes the grainy intimacy of home movies, yet feels alluringly cinematic.

Heralding the arrival of an unapologetically bold new voice in filmmaking, it takes guts to put it all out there, or "snitch," as Huntt says in the film. She rips off bandages, exposing her wounds, shame, and intergenerational trauma to the world. In her opening narration, she says, "Violence lives in my DNA. I carry an ancient pain that I struggle to understand."

Interviewing her family on camera, Rebeca is extremely close to her father. He immigrated to the U.S. as a child fleeing genocide in the Dominican Republic. Rebeca talks about her sister Raquel's college scholarship, affinity for gardens, mental health struggles, and violent outbursts. With her brother, Juancarlos, she has a strained relationship, often not speaking, although they share a love of poetry and hip hop. Tension exists between Rebeca and her mother, who emigrated from Venezuela to the U.S. Arguing on-camera, it's clear a tremendous amount of pain simmers between them.

Along with her parents and two siblings, Rebeca and her family lived in a rent-control one-bedroom apartment in New York City, "the poorest family on Central Park West." Huntt speaks affectionately about spending her childhood summers in Venezuela, where she had her first communion and her first kiss.

"Beba" Poetically Excavates Deep Personal Truths

Art clearly had a huge impact in high school and college, as she shares her love of Shakespeare, Maya Angelou, and Octavia Butler. She alludes to Virginia Woolf's assertion that women need their own spaces to create art.

Attending Bard College, a biracial Black woman professor advises Rebeca on assimilation and respectability politics, which she later rejects. In a salient yet uncomfortable scene, three white college friends debate racism in front of her. We witness their problematic statements. Rebeca attempts to explain "the entrenched dehumanization" people of color face, yet she becomes frustrated by their refusal to actively seek solutions to white supremacy, thinking hollow declarations of allyship suffice.

Transporting images of lush, verdant foliage contrast the stone, steel, and concrete of New York City. Someone braids Rebeca's hair as we hear audio about police brutality against Black people. Poetry recitation set to music accompanies images of Black Lives Matter protests. These juxtapositions mirror the complexities and dualities residing within Rebeca, as well as her family.

Gorgeously bathed in gold, orange, and purple hues, Rebeca jubilantly dances on a beach at sunset. Her movement conveys freedom and ecstasy. Despite the painful terrain she traversed, scenes like this underscore the necessity for people of color to make room for and embrace joy in a brutally violent, white supremacist world.

In the powerful and riveting "Beba," Huntt fearlessly digs deep, excavating personal truths — both beautiful and painful — about her family and herself. Vulnerably baring her soul on-screen, she conveys the difficulties of being an Afro-Latina woman.

"Beba" opens in theaters on Friday, June 24, 2022.