Miss Juneteenth

DRAMA; 1hr 43min

STARRING: Nicole Beharie, Alexis Chikaeze, Kendrick Sampson

Glory days: Beharie

Juneteenth — June 19 — is an annual American holiday originating in 1865 to celebrate the freeing of slaves in Texas; Abraham Lincoln had in fact outlawed slavery two years before, but making it happen took time, surprise surprise, especially down South. First-time feature filmmaker Channing Godfrey Peoples centres her winning mother–daughter story around a celebratory Fort Worth beauty pageant, which is a very big deal indeed, embossed as it is with the heft of history and a full scholarship to “any historically black institution.”


Turquoise Jones (Beharie) is a single parent, bartender and part-time mortuary makeup artist whose crowning moment as Miss J is a shining memory she’s fixed on passing down to her 15-year-old daughter, Kai (Chikaeze). Kai, being 15, isn’t into it: her heart lies with dancing, not with reciting Maya Angelou’s “Phenomenal Woman” or figuring out which cutlery and glassware to use at a formal. (Ah, pageants. Some truths never change.)


Turquoise, whose pregnancy with Kai derailed her own scholarship, forcing her to strip to get by, and who carries a torch for Kai’s smoothie father, Ronnie (Sampson), although they’re not officially together, refuses to let the upcoming contest rest. She wants more for her daughter than she alone can provide, while all Kai wants is enough space from her bossy mama to carve her own path.


Peoples rounds out the reality of black folks doing their best to get by with an empathy and economy that lets day-by-day details do the talking. Beharie’s Turquoise is a rock through and through, her clear-eyed fortitude refusing to quit however misguided her intentions. She and her girl have every right to make their mark — but you could be sneaking glances at the clock while they work on it. This slice of hard-up life isn’t fussed about taking it easy.