Review: Miss Juneteenth

Year: 2020
Runtime: 99 Minutes
Writer/Director: Channing Godfrey Peoples
Stars: Nichole Beharie, Alexis Chikaeze, Kendrick Sampson

By Erica Richards

This film’s title comes at the perfect time–when society is being educated about Juneteenth amidst the Black Lives Matter movement. June 19th of every year is when the celebration of the freedom of the Black slaves in Texas was delivered more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation had been issued by President Abraham Lincoln and the end of the Civil War. I imagine many people who previously ignored the automatic calendar notification from their phone actually took the opportunity to do better and to research, educate, and inform themselves about this part of the United States history–or at least I hope so. 

Written and directed by Channing Godfrey Peoples, “Miss Juneteenth” is her first feature length film–she has a few others under her belt including shorts, a documentary short, and a couple writing-only credits on a TV series. Peoples has proven to be making a bigger name for herself with this feature debut; “Miss Juneteenth” won the SXSW Film Festival Winner Best Texan Film award and was a Nominee for the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. “Miss Juneteenth” feels personal and intimate in its storytelling–a mom and daughter navigating boundaries in their relationship during what seems to be a learning and transitional phase in their separate and shared lives. 

Copyright Vertitcal Entertainment

“The appeal of “Miss Juneteenth” is that when you first watch it you can already feel the rewatchability shining through.”

The bright colours of the set design and costumes of the film are sneakily beautiful. The vast array of hues do not jump out on the screen but are gently woven into the landscape of the settings and costumes, unflashy and yet still boldly apparent. The film begins with Turquoise Jones (Nicole Beharie) a former Miss Juneteenth Queen reminiscing on her time in victory.  She pulls her crown and dress from their kept places, the view then flashes back to her memory, waving to a crowd in a parade wearing the dress and crown she holds in her hands now outside of her closet door.

Quickly thereafter, we learn that Turquoise’s life is not one of a beauty/pageant queen as we see her clean the gritty bathroom of a bar she works at. It is evident that her coworkers care for her, and this sets the stage for a strong small community for the setting of the narrative. Everyone knows everyone. 

“Beharie’s calm performance is so genuine and raw that you will crave more of her after this film.”

Copyright Vertitcal Entertainment

We learn that Turquoise is raising a daughter basically by herself, and a daughter that wants nothing to do with the Miss Juneteenth pageant she is expected to participate in. Kai (Alexis Chikaeze) is focused on boys, dancing, and of course: boys. She does not fit in with the other young women in the pageant and is judged for her family’s situation and financial instability. Kai’s maturity transformation and character development are relatable and intriguing to watch. Chikaeze and Beharie have a natural, easy chemistry on screen. You will undoubtedly root for these women in the entirety of the narrative.

The appeal of “Miss Juneteenth” is that when you first watch it you can already feel the rewatchability shining through; it is like a warm hug that you want to revisit before it is even over with the first time. Beharie’s calm performance is so genuine and raw that you will crave more of her after this film. This heartwarming mother-daughter story might seem slow-paced at first, but once you realize how much you are invested in these characters you will not want the story to come to an end.

NOW AVAILABLE IN THEATERS, ON DEMAND AND DIGITAL

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