Eearlier this year, Philippa Lowthorpe’s socio-comedy Misbehavior entertainingly tackled the intersection between sexism and racism through the bizarre real-life pageantry of the disrupted 1970 Miss World pageant in London. A very different spectacle takes place in Fort Worth, Texas, in this impressive feature debut from writer-director Channing Godfrey Peoples. Following a mother’s attempts to convey her own interrupted ambitions to her teenage daughter, Miss Juneteenth is a beautifully watched, calmly powerful drama that applies its coming-of-age tropes to kids, parents, and politics.
Nicole Beharie, who played Rachel Robinson to Chadwick Boseman’s Jackie in 42, is Turquoise Jones, a former beauty queen (she keeps her crown in a box) juggling shifts at the Wayman BBQ bar and local funeral home. “I’ll never get over seeing Miss Juneteenth cleaning the toilet!” Laughs her fluorescent haired friend and colleague Betty Ray (Liz Mikel). After an unexpected turn in life (details are implied rather than made explicit), Turquoise is now investing all of her energy to ensure that her stubborn daughter Kai (Alexis Chikaeze) wins the next Miss Juneteenth pageant, and claims the scholarship. to âall historically black institutionâ that goes with it.
“I’m going to make sure she’s something we’re not,” Turquoise tells Kai’s trapped father, Ronnie (Kendrick Sampson), as she saves and saves tips to pay for the registration fee at the contest and for the $ 800 dress she’ll be sure to win the day. As for Kai, she’s more interested in dreaming about dance team events and dating her beatbox boyfriend (both against her mother’s disapproval), and finding her own identity, her own moves.
Described by its creator as a movie that asks “What happens when good news comes too late?” Â», This favorite of the Sundance festival (already reported by Variety as an Oscar nominee) does a great job of interweaving the personal and the political, skillfully embracing the complex nature of its incumbent competition and the date it takes its name. While a typically deaf Donald Trump may have recently said that “no one had ever heard of it” until “I made Juneteenth very famous” (he apparently didn’t know at the time of the awkward planning of a campaign rally in Tulsa earlier this year), the commemoration of the end of slavery on June 19, 1865 has long held deep meaning for African Americans such as Peoples. “The month of June is our vacation, âthe imperious Mrs. Washington (Phyllis Cicero) told these young pageant hopefuls. “Not only will you represent your beauty, but our story as well,” noting that this story included a two-year delay after Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation in 1863 before freedom finally came to Texas.
This feeling of delayed or deferred emancipation runs through everyone Miss Juneteenth, as Turquoise continues to fight against inequalities (gender, race, wealth, opportunity) as a working single mother. “You won this thing,” said her own mother contemptuously, intoxicated with spirits – both holy and alcoholic. “What did it do you good for?” “
Yet, despite a strong historical political base, it is the warm and empathetic portrait of everyday life that shines through this winner of the Texas film festival SXSW Louis Black “Lone Star” price. Growing up in Fort Worth, Peoples understands the rhythms and resilience of this community, clearly relishing the blend of grain and beauty that is at the heart of their film. It is significant that Turquoise and Kai turn to Maya Angelou’s poem Phenomenal woman as a defining mantra, although the different ways in which each interprets it speaks volumes about the ever-changing world in which they live.
Lovingly shot by cinematographer Daniel Patterson, and sparingly by Emily Rice, Miss Juneteenth is full of haunting images of affection: a street scene full of life; inhabited houses seen through a car window; an indomitable woman dancing alone near a jukebox at the end of a hot summer evening. There are still fights to be faced, but the message of the Peoples film is one of love, hope and change.