Miss Juneteenth (2020)

A former pageant winner registers her daughter in the same pageant hoping she can win and get a better chance at higher education. Together they navigate the pageant and life as best they can, trying to make their lives better along the way.

Written and directed by Channing Godfrey Peoples, the film is an intimate exploration of a mother-daughter relationship, of growing up poor, and of some of the challenges of living Black in the United States. The film takes all of these themes and mixes them with a talented hand, giving each the space their need and mingling them in a way that feels natural. Her work here feels not only intimate but personal and organic. The subject and how its approached feel like there is so much more going on than what is shown on screen. The film is touching with characters who are fierce and strong, it’s a story shown through the leads and their struggles, love, and lives.

The lead here is Nicole Beharie as as Turquoise, the mom and former pageant winner who is trying to get herself and her daughter a better life. Beharie’s performance here is stunning and emotional with just the right amount of nuance. She knows when to let the emotions do the talking and when to hold back. She’s giving a fantastic performance here. Playing her daughter Kai is Alexis Chikaeze who gives teenage angst a face for part of the film and then gives her character a great emotional arc. She works wonders here and it’s great to watch her evolve inside of her character and show how once can develop with their character. These two ladies make for a great pair working as mother and daughter, giving the push and pull of the relationship a reality that works for the film. These two make the film work on the strength of their performances. Adding to Beharie and Chikaeze are Kendrick Sampson as Kai’s father, Marcus M. Mauldin as Wayman, Turquoise’s boss, and a slew of talented supporting actors. The cast overall does fantastic work, which is really a testament to their talent, the writing, and the directing.

The film’s look here is warm and embracing in some scenes and a bit more worried in others, there is something about the atmosphere of the film that brings the viewer in and makes them feel a part of the story and with the characters with their struggles and their wins. The cinematography by Daniel Patterson is beautiful here with just the right angles and right framing for the scenes as they come and go and evolve. His work here is strong and subdued at times, depending on what the story and characters need. This is no small feat and it makes the film look just perfect. His documentary experience brings in a realness to the film here and puts the characters front and center. Paired with the cinematography is the editing by Courtney Ware that allows scenes to happen and develop without constantly trying to make them dynamic. The editing here trusts the story to bring its own energy and allows the cast to take the space they need. Together, the cinematography and the editing help create a film that flows perfectly for its story.

Miss Juneteenth is a beautiful film about struggle, love, and living as a Black person in the United States. It deals with the history of Juneteenth (which should be read about to understand a bit more about Black history in the US), with mother-daughter relationships that are often strained, and with what some want to do with their lives and how they won’t let anyone stop them. Miss Juneteenth is a very timely film that the filmmaker could not possibly know would hit just at the right time, right now when it was made, but who most definitely knew it was needed. The film shows a lot in a short period and makes the best use of its talented cast to bring the viewer in and make them think.