Miss Juneteenth – Film Review

Drama, in English
1 hour 43 minutes

Limited cinema release, available on streaming services

The film premiered at Sundance in January 2020, and was released via video on demand on 19 June, 2020 to mark the 155th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in Texas, from which the film derives its title.

Miss Juneteenth follows a single mother and former Miss Juneteeth, Turquoise Jones, preparing her daughter Kai for the same beauty pageant years later.

Kai clearly has other interests, but Turquoise seems determined to live out her own unfulfilled dreams through her daughter. While other former Miss Juneteenth winners have gone on to have successful careers Turquoise’s education was derailed by the birth of Kai, which forced her to drop out of college and for a time work as a stripper.

She makes many sacrifices to make sure her daughter succeeds, including the purchase of a very expensive dress, which in the end she cannot afford.

The competition, while yet another disappointment itself, allows epiphanies in several quarters for both Turquoise and Kai.

While there is not a lot of visible emancipation in the society depicted in this film, it nevertheless explores aspects of female empowerment. Amidst the grim social justice questions raised by the film there is a bright note when we realise that the film is carried largely by black female actors – the medium itself becoming the message, as it were.

The coming of age theme works well for the Kai character, but equally for Turquoise who see a light all her own when she finally acknowledges that the Miss Juneteenth pageant is not the only route to success and that she can forge ahead without attaching herself to a man.

At times I found the dialogue difficult to understand – I am not sure if this was due to the small screen viewing or my own unaccustomed ear. While this did not prevent understanding of the plot or themes, it was a trifle irritating.

On the other hand, the denouement was deeply satisfying.

  • Writer/Director: Channing Godfrey Peoples
  • Producers: Toby Halbrooks, Tim Headington, Jeanie Igoe, James M. Johnston, Theresa Page, Neil Creque Williams
  • Nicole Beharie as Turquoise Jones
  • Kendrick Sampson as Ronnie
  • Alexis Chikaeze as Kai Jones