“As a product of the Latest World, violence lives in my DNA. I carry an ancient pain that I struggle to know,” director Rebeca Huntt utters at the beginning of Beba, her lyrical and gritty debut film. In her autobiographical documentary, a visceral 80-minute gem, the born and bred Latest Yorker is searching to emotionally heal on screen. Eight years within the making and now playing in select theaters, Beba, each written and directed by Huntt, depicts a rarely seen interiority of a self-assured millennial Black Latina, who desires to creatively survive in Latest York and break the cycle of generational trauma. Shot on 16mm and made with a mostly all-women crew, Huntt lays bare all that she must contend with—her Dominican and Venezuelan roots, her Afro-Latinidad, Black womanhood, sex, heartbreak, and death. Beba weaves together Huntt’s multifaceted world into 4 chapters, layering each with childhood photographs, vulnerable voiceovers and interviews from members of the family, and historical and contemporary video footage. And while the film paints a vivid portrait of her life, she didn’t just make it for herself.
“The goal was to find a way to attach with people on a deeper level and to form of make something that contributed to a more liberating existence,” Huntt confidently shares with ELLE.com. “And the one solution to do this, I believe, was to be authentic about what I used to be presenting.”
During a Zoom chat on a sunny morning in June, Huntt, 32, is fresh faced in a lime green crop top and her “Beba” gold nameplate necklace, she politely asks if she will be able to eat her breakfast. Huntt currently resides in a mountain pueblo in Mexico but is spending time in Latest York for the film’s press run. Beba, derived from Huntt’s childhood nickname coined by her mother, peels off all of her layers—the sublime, the messy, the in-between—and showcases a multi-dimensionality for Black Latinas hardly represented in film.
We see that within the scenes she shares along with her parents. On a bench in Central Park, Huntt interviews her dad, an enthralling Afro-Dominican man named Juan who was born on a sugar plantation outside San Pedro de Macoris. Juan recalls the fear and trauma he experienced through the bloody Dominican Civil War in 1965, and escaping to Bed-Stuy through the late sixties. He remembers a friend in DR asking him, “You’re thinking that they need Black people in the US?” There’s a joyful camaraderie between Huntt and Juan, who admits to her, “Literally, you’re my favorite person to be around.” Huntt’s mother, Veronica, is a Venezuelan woman from Caracas who deserted a privileged lifetime of seaside family trips and custom-made dresses to enroll at Pace University. Using old family home movies, Huntt presents Veronica’s origin story: the daughter of a sublime woman who ran a garment business and battled schizophrenia. Huntt unflinchingly narrates about her maternal grandmother spending six months in a psychiatric hospital, and the way Veronica watched her own mother get hosed down. Her parents’ vast differences as Latinxs of various races, ethnicities, and classes, excels in showing how wealthy and non-monolithic the Latinx community truly is.
The moments between Huntt and Veronica are tense and at times combative. Each women lay on a blanket, with Huntt bluntly asking, “What’s it like being a mom to Black children?” Veronica, clearly bothered, replies she “raised her kids as a Latin person.” It’s an comprehensible answer from a non-Black Latina from an older generation, but it surely disregards Blackness and the racial nuances of raising phenotypically Black children. Huntt presses Veronica to share why, during trips to Venezuela, she’d ask their non-Black members of the family to not comment on her Black children’s hair texture or skin tone. Veronica breaks into tears and asks Huntt to not be so “aggressive”, as they clash to complete the interview. These are painful yet needed scenes that drive straight to the center of Beba and, on a bigger scale, show the (unintentional) harm non-Black Latinxs can sometimes perpetuate to their Black members of the family. Colorism, texturism, and featurism are unfortunately embedded inside Latinx families, especially for Afro-Latines who bear the brunt of those cruel ‘isms.’ Huntt feels those scenes are “real,” not only in Latinx culture, “but any form of multi-cultural family or biracial family.” She hoped to start out the conversation without judgment, “showing what I felt was each of us at our worst,” and to ask, “How can we now have more compassion inside our own interpersonal relationships?”
Huntt in Beba.
Courtesy of NEON
Huntt paints a brutally honest portrait of her upbringing, a family of 5 living in a crowded, rent-controlled, one-bedroom apartment on Central Park West. Huntt shared the bedroom along with her two older siblings—artsy, first-gen, millennial Afro-Latine kids – but at times it became contentious. Huntt is handed her first joint at age ten, a peace offering from her sister Raquel, who choked her. Raquel is described as “a free spirited and rebellious human being,” who suffers from agoraphobia and collects disability checks. But there’s a fierce and delightful bond between the 2 sisters. As they walk past a community garden of their neighborhood, Raquel wistfully mentions, “This probably would’ve saved my life after I was younger.” She recalls white neighbors who opened the garden but didn’t let Black kids and children of color in, and the way she used crack vials left by addicts within the garden for a college project. Huntt and her brother Juan Carlos would sit at nighttime to investigate Jay-Z lyrics because he loves metaphors and wordplay. He’s the one member of the family who doesn’t appear in Beba, and any hurt and resentment between them is alluded to ambiguously. On sentiments towards her brother, Huntt passionately explains in our interview, “Each person on this world has complexities within the relationships with the people who they love. And if we go searching, we shouldn’t be ashamed of that.”
When she leaves for her liberal college upstate, Huntt’s lens turns dreamy and carefree—gradient Hudson Valley sunsets, and Huntt playing a harmonica around a bonfire. Black Latinas navigating elite predominantly white institutions are rarely represented in film, so it feels affirming whenever you see parts of yourself on screen, although racism remains to be at play. At Bard, Huntt “lives with artistic Black kids,” but hangs out along with her white friends individually. Older Black women warn her that her white social circles will “never see you as a human being.” Annie Seaton, a biracial Humanities professor, keenly observes Huntt’s core friend group, affluent white kids from well-connected families, and the white male classmates who were smitten along with her. Huntt speaks Spanish to her white friends and “it makes them feel protected,” which is loads to unpack. Post-Bard and within the midst of BLM protests, Huntt has a heated discussion along with her white friends about structural racism, who very typically gaslight and diminish Black voices within the conversation. Huntt angrily points out it’s not her job as a Black woman to dismantle white supremacy, then dramatically exits. It’s not a shocker whenever you learn ultimately credits that that moment was recreated with actors, who displayed a predictable liberal white ally response.
“I attribute quite a lot of my artistry, creative context, and references to being a Latest Yorker,” Huntt says.
Courtesy of NEON
Though Huntt’s journey takes her out of town, in some ways Latest York itself is the sixth member of the family that makes Beba electric. Visuals of sunlight shining down on cityscapes and elevated subway cars, vibrant and busy street corners in Harlem and the Bronx, Nolita’s iconic Cafe Habana where Huntt serves tables, and a voiceover intro of Video Music Box’s host Ralph McDaniels over the Williamsburg Bridge. “I like Latest York greater than anything on this planet. It’s the best city of all time. And I attribute quite a lot of my artistry, creative context, and references to being a Latest Yorker,” Huntt muses in our interview. But Latest York has also brought love and loss. Her ex-boyfriend Michael, who she desired to “have babies and construct an urban farm uptown” with, was bipolar. And three months after their break-up, he jumped from the George Washington Bridge. Mental illness has touched so many family members in Huntt’s life; her immeasurable compassion and charm towards them is a serious touchstone in Beba.
Throughout her cinematic memoir, Huntt offers up her tumultuous twenties and the spiritual wounds she’s suffered from the emotional chaos engulfing her. She’s bravely suturing up her soul from ancestral curses, family dysfunction, mental illness amongst her kin, deaths which are way too near bear, and the first-generation struggle. Regardless that Huntt’s mom chastises her for airing out all their dirty laundry—“Recover from it, life just isn’t easy, coño”—Huntt’s personal histories in Beba are healing tools not only for herself, but for all of us.
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