Film Review: Miss Juneteenth
Director: Channing Godfrey Peoples
Sailor Bear and Ley Line Entertainment
Streaming on Video on Demand: 06.19
So, I came very late to the Gilmore Girls party, but I have made up for it by binging the entire series—as well as A Year in the Life—multiple times. The show has become my escapist obsession, and Star’s Hollow is my happy place. But if there’s one thing the month of June taught me it’s that, sometimes, a good a jolt of reality can be even more needed than an escape. Miss Juneteenth, which made a splash at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, is Gilmore Girls minus the excess of white privilege.
Turquoise Jones (Nicole Beharie), is a single mother in a suburb of Fort Worth, Texas who won the local Miss Juneteenth pageant as a teenager, as well as the full college scholarship that comes with it. It’s now over 15 years later, and Turquoise has entered her daughter Kai (Alexis Chikaeze) in the pageant, because she wants her daughter to have the life she lost when a teen pregnancy led to her dropping out of college and working for a time as a stripper. But Kai wants to pursue a future in dancing. She sees little use for the pageant, and isn’t even sure she wants to go to college.
Miss Juneteenth is raw and at times depressing, but it’s never fake. It’s a captivating character study and a moving portrait of determination under difficult circumstances, driving home the theme of how hard it is to care for others when you can’t forgive yourself. It’s also a harsh look at the reality of being poor and black in America.
Nicole Beharie is pitch perfect in her portrayal of Turquoise, always balancing her toughness and frailty in the momeny. Chikaze is beautifully natural, and Lori Hayes is spellbinding as Turqouise’s fanatically religious and alcoholic mother.
Writer/Director Channing Godfrey Peoples establishes herself as a skilled and exciting new cinematic voice. If she isn’t fielding some serious offer from studios (which I hope she is), it would be nice to think that it’s because this is a small and intimate piece of storytelling that’s not igniting Hollywood’s collective imaginations, as opposed to the extended forces of racism and sexism in the movie industry. But whatever strides are being made, they aren’t happening fast enough, and you shouldn’t need to see this film to be reminded of that fact.
Miss Juneteenth is a big winner, a touching and melancholy piece of storytelling that is as timeless as it is timely. It is easily one of the best films of 2020 up to this point, and one which you will not regret taking a chance on. –Patrick Gibbs