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Sundance 2024 Review: Seeking Mavis Beacon – “Incredibly creative filmmaking”

Jazmin Jones and Olivia Mckayla Ross appear in Seeking Mavis Beacon, an official selection of the NEXT program at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute. Photo by Yeelen Cohen.

In 1987, the world got a new teacher.  Her name was Mavis Beacon, and she taught typing on your computer screen.  This educational software was in schools and homes everywhere.  Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing was there to help guide a generation of people, but she also served as a cultural icon, which led many to understandably believe that Beacon was a real person.  People even seemed to remember interviews with her and television appearances.  This, however, was something called the Mandela effect – where a group remembers an event that doesn’t match the historical record.

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In fact, Mavis Beacon was initially portrayed by Renée L’Espérance, a Haitian-born model found working in a department store who was paid a paltry $500 to pose for the cover of the product.  She was the face of Mavis Beacon to so many, but a couple of decades ago, she disappeared.  For her first feature film, Jazmin Renée Jones gets to the root of this mystery, and so much more, in Seeking Mavis Beacon.

In this inventive debut, Jones teams up with (then) 19-year-old Olivia Ross, a self-proclaimed “cyber doula,” someone who stewards healthy relationships between people and technology.  She’s also an alumna of Black Girls CODE and can seem to find any information on the internet. Coupled with Jones’ archivist and organizer background, the two are a fitting investigative team, while they also foster what seems to be a thriving, burgeoning friendship.  

Yet this journey becomes so much more than just searching for a long last icon.  Along the the way Jones and Ross also look at the role of Black women in technological development as well as Black representation in software, AI and beyond.  Code is not immune to bias.  The two women also start to question their own methodologies and what it means to make this film.  They have to confront the topic of consent within documentary practice.  What if L’Espérance doesn’t want to be found?

A true visual storyteller, Jones utilizes a multitude of techniques to keep their journey interesting.  Working from an interface of a computer desktop we see clips from social media and memes which help to explain technological features.  These quick interjections happen alongside interviews and insights from artists, activists and, yes, even eventually the developers of Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing.  Sometimes it can feel as if the direction is veering off course with so much going on, but almost everything comes full circle.  In the end, it becomes an effective way to keep things interesting, even when there are lulls and setbacks in their investigation. 

Jones and Ross do some truly good detective work, online and in person, in their attempt to locate and talk to L’Espérance.  With so much else discussed and uncovered in this film it almost becomes secondary.  But this five-year quest takes an emotional and physical toll on the filmmaker, and her investment quickly becomes yours.  Seeking Mavis Beacon is a film that is more about the journey than the destination.  With Jones displaying some incredibly creative filmmaking, it’s a journey you’re always interested to be on, even with a few detours. 

Seeking Mavis Beacon premiered at the Sundance Film Festival January 20. 2024.  For more information head to

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