Miss Juneteenth follows a young mother as she tries to help her daughter be successfully crowned this year’s ‘Miss Juneteenth’, a title she once held herself. Turquoise is a fighter, she’s a single mum with multiple jobs who would do anything to give her daughter the opportunities she missed out on herself after falling pregnant. Eager to make sure Kai doesn’t make the same mistakes she becomes single-mindedly determined to help her win, viewing it as her own do-over – if her daughter can also be crowned Miss Juneteenth, that proves she’s made the right choices in her life.
It’s a simple, understated plot that’s filled with all the bits that make life messy – Kai doesn’t have any interest in the pageant, she doesn’t want to be a carbon copy of her mother and is eager to find her own voice and styles. Turquoise has a complicated relationship with Kai’s father who has a complicated relationship with the law. Every time Turquoise is able to move forward, something pushes her back or derails her.
Director Channing Godfrey Peoples (who also wrote the film as her feature-length debut) is confident enough to let the performances be the heart of the film. There’s nothing showy or pageant-like, instead homing in on the small touches of family life and the delicate nature of this fragile but strong mother-daughter relationship.
Nicole Beharie is a quiet thunderstorm in the role of Turquoise. Her face remains composed like a true pageant queen but Beharie is able to embody the rage she feels underneath and the non-stop aggression she feels as a protective mother. Scenes where she confronts her relationship with her own mother are particularly moving and Beharie is definitely one to watch. Alexis Chikaeze is equally charming as Kai, a role that could be played as annoying and petulant in less skilled hands, Chikaeze instead feels real and multi-faceted.
Releasing in the UK on VOD this Friday (25th September) it unfortunately doesn’t coincide with the real Juneteenth, a historical day I knew very little about until earlier this year. The film touches on its significance but doesn’t delve too deep – instead allowing us to focus on the moving performances and research the rest later.
It’s not as big or showy as some of the more recent UK releases, but it’s a universal story of maternal love and a charming independent film.