Miss Juneteenth tells the story of a single mother and former beauty queen as she preps her daughter for the local “Miss Juneteenth” pageant. The Channing Godfrey Peoples-directed film stars 42‘s Nicole Beharie (Turqouise), Insecure’s Kendrick Sampson (Ronnie), and breakout star Alexis Chikaeze (Kai). Peoples is also the writer of the heartfelt film. The film premiered at Sundance in January 2020, and was released onto Amazon Prime on June 19, 2020 to commemorate the holiday’s 155th year.
Originally celebrated in Texas and now celebrated as a federal holiday in the United States, Juneteenth commemorates the emancipation of enslaved African Americans in Galveston, Texas in 1865, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was initially signed. Miss Juneteenth is based in the suburbs of Fort Worth, Texas, where Peoples grew up and drew inspiration from her own experiences.
In Miss Juneteenth, both Turquoise (Beharie) and Kai (Chikaeze) are looking for something that is their own. You can even make the case that this is true for Turq’s soon-to-be ex-husband and Kai’s father Ronnie: a mechanic who tries to open his own shop. It’s clear to Kai in the beginning that she does not want to follow in her mother’s footsteps and be crowned “Miss Juneteenth.” Although being the youngest character in the film, she’s the first who knows what direction she wants to go in, post-high school. Kai dreams of dancing at an HBCU, not being dressed up in an evening gown, and most certainly not taking etiquette lessons. It doesn’t come as easy for Turquoise as she is wrapped in the illusion that her daughter’s best path in life can only be achieved by the outcome of a pageant. The former beauty queen almost blinds herself to the next opportunity of getting her own “American Dream.” Admittedly, Turquoise contradicts herself when saying “that crown don’t make your dreams come true”: she got pregnant young and forfeited her scholarship, working as a bartender, and later becoming a stripper to afford Kai’s pageant fees and getting Ronnie out of jail. It’s only fair she wants better for her daughter after seeing the toxicity of her relationship with her own mother.
Not only does Miss Juneteenth speak on the parallels of Black success in America but the womanhood and motherhood between three generations of women. You have Charlotte (Lori Hayes, who plays Turquoise’s mother) who has masked her drunkenness by overcompensating her love of the church and furthermore straining her relationship with Turquoise and Kai. Turquoise doesn’t want her daughter to go on the same path as her so she pushes Kai to win the Miss Juneteenth pageant–which means a full ride to any HBCU of her choosing–even if it means sacrificing electricity for a night. Lastly, you have Kai, who wants to act like a normal teenage girl and interact with guys her age and ultimately wants to pursue a dream of her choosing and not her mother’s.
In this love letter to southern Black culture, Miss Juneteenth intertwines the freedom that our ancestors sought and the modern liberation of having something of our own whether it be property or a dream. The symbolism of the Miss Juneteenth crown in relation to Turquoise’s own determent from her original path in hindsight reflects the old saying: “All that glitters is not gold.”
Take a look at the trailer of the film below: