2 Detectives Dig Into The Disappearance Of A 1987 Typing Instructor (Well Sort Of) In Seeking Mavis Beacon

by Eloise Sherrid

In 1987, a Black woman named Mavis Beacon taught the world to type. A generation of students learned to access the digital world through her educational software, “Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing,” and were then shocked to learn that Beacon was a fictional character, created from whole cloth to market a product.

While Beacon wasn’t real, the model who played her for the software’s first edition was. Her name was Renée L’Espérance, and she disappeared soon after the photo shoot. In Seeking Mavis Beacon, filmmaker Jazmin Jones and digital artist Olivia McKayla Ross set out to find her.

Styling themselves as plucky girl detectives, Jones and Ross dress their uneasy findings in the tropes of a ’90s teen movie. They build a neon clubhouse with a red string conspiracy board. They ride skateboards and muse about whether a person can own the IP of their own body. The mystery hits all the right beats: A disappearance! Plot twists! A cover-up! The resulting film is colorful and campy, but also unavoidably troubling. By design, the audience can’t help but notice how the film was constructed, priming viewers to notice how and why Beacon was constructed, too. 

Beneath the jokes and the spectacle, Seeking Mavis Beacon carries an undercurrent of bitterness. Jones and Ross, who are both Black, clearly know where this story is going from the start, even if the details come as a surprise. Under digital capitalism, every part of a person’s existence can be commodified—especially if they’re a Black woman. At times, the filmmakers’ metaphors are unsubtle, but some points need to be heavy-handed, and Jones and Ross are very good at what they do. 

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