Written and directed by Channing Godfrey Peoples, Miss Juneteenth is a timely depiction of a young mother’s ambitions in a world where “there ain’t no American dream for Black people.”
Set in Fort Worth, Texas, this film follows Turquoise Jones (Nicole Beharie) – a single mother and former Miss Juneteenth – as she tries to make a better future for her 15-year-old daughter Kai (Alexis Chikaeze). With its numerous success stories and the opportunity to receive a scholarship to a Black college of the winner’s choice, the annual Miss Juneteenth pageant has been the pinnacle of Turquoise’s dreams for herself and now for her daughter. For Kai, this feels like an aspiration that has been foisted upon her, and she would rather try out for the school dance team and hang out with her boyfriend than attend lessons on table etiquette. Unlike men, her mother and the success that seems to have eluded Turquoise, Kai remains a constant.
It is this mutual understanding and the tenderness of the mother-daughter bond captured by Beharie and Chikaeze that sets Miss Juneteenth apart from the typical pageant films or tense family drama. Yes, Turquoise may be living her dreams through her child, but for once, the daughter understands. Kai witnesses her mother work two jobs and endure the embarrassment of being Miss Juneteenth who cleans toilets instead of marrying a senator and is offered the chance of being “First Lady” of the funeral parlour. Peoples offers an affirming spin on a story that would have perhaps been, in another writer’s hands, centred on Kai’s rebellion against her mother. There are no overwrought arguments and no dramatic rejections of her mother’s desires. Instead, the movie shows what it means to support each other in a hostile world.
Beharie’s performance is a career best and it adds to the nuance and lived-in feel of the work. Peoples has created a much-needed debut that gives a voice to the Black female experience in a country that offers no safety net. But at its core, it’s a hopeful feature that refuses to trivialise the ambitions of its protagonists, showing their heroic determination to live on their own terms instead.
Miss Juneteenth is released digitally on demand on 25th September 2020.
Watch the trailer for Miss Juneteenth here: