The conversation about Blackness in the US that was renewed and expanded in the summer of 2020 is far from resolved. Since that time, the demands for emotional and material reckonings with the role of race in our lives have acquired new dimensions. In her debut feature, Beba (2021), Rebeca Huntt attempts to sort through what it means to be Black and not Black—Afro-Latinx, in her case—in the fraught melting pot of New York City.
The film, an experimental documentary self-portrait featuring interviews, soundbites from news reports, James Baldwin quotations, images of nature, and footage made throughout Huntt’s life is ultimately about what it means to occupy the entirety of her identity in rooms that welcome one part of her and estrange her from another.
At the start, a text card reads: “This my part. Nobody else speak,” a nod to a Chance the Rapper line in his verse on Kanye West’s “Ultralight Beam.” This epigraph sets the tone for the highly individual focus that Huntt takes for the duration of the film. Although the narrative illuminates themes of immigrant parenthood, multi-racial identity, and a sense of belonging (or not) within the African diaspora, Huntt is here to tell her family’s specific story from her own point of view.
Huntt centers herself while explicating her father and brother’s tense relationship, the generational cycles of mother-and-daughter feuds, and the ways that the Latinx community, including her own mother, has ostracized her as a result of her Blackness. These all become context and background noise for Huntt’s own journey of self-exploration within a shifting family dynamic and in a world where race is at the forefront of everyone’s mind, for better or worse.
Beba—named after Huntt’s mother’s affectionate nickname for her—sometimes lapses into moments of self-importance. While racial, historical, and generational information is conveyed through fleeting shots of her family, her white college friends, and the streets of New York, Ghana, and Venezuela, Huntt’s stake in the broader issues her film invokes is never entirely clear. A scene in which she is getting her hair braided is played against an amalgamation of audio from news reports and police tapes, overlaying this Black ritual with news of police brutality. It’s entirely too on the nose, but the decision reflects the distance that Huntt creates between herself and her Blackness as she comes to terms with her multi-racial existence.
Handheld footage of Huntt and her sister criticizing the lack of access for poor people of color to supposed community spots in their New York neighborhood and of Huntt frolicking on the beach with her white friends from Bard is juxtaposed with sit-down interviews with her mother and father, who have very different conceptions of race. Huntt’s understanding of her “New World” Black identity is communicated mostly in terms of both state and interpersonal violence and in contrast with the experience of her white and non-Black Latinx peers.
The film’s stand-out scene appears right after this hair-braiding sequence. Huntt fields questions and aggression from her white friends regarding their roles in anti-racism protests. Huntt mostly deflects, asking the others to interrogate themselves, which causes them to become defensive. At one point, a friend raises her hands in surrender and says, “I don’t know how to enter this situation.” She seems to mean both the situation in that room and the situation of becoming a useful racial ally. Huntt’s frustration boils over. She tells them that the answer to ending white supremacy is their job, not hers, before she leaves with her coat in hand.
Beba is an answer to Huntt’s own question of self. Who does she become amidst the uncertainty of her racial identity while in the presence of others? ore importantly, how does she regard herself when she is alone?
Beba opens tonight, June 24, at IFC Center. Director Rebeca Huntt will be in attendance for a Q&A at the 8:00pm show.
Screen Slate has received a fee from NEON for our consideration of this title, though the content was not reviewed by the distributor. Advertising and membership allow us to pay our contributors and editors.