Youth Board Reviews: Miss Juneteenth

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Glasgow Youth Film Festival presents a special preview screening of Miss Juneteenth on Saturday 19 September. Click here to book your tickets.

**Warning: this article contains spoilers, plot and character descriptions from Miss Juneteenth.**

Miss Juneteenth
is Channing Godfrey Peoples' heartfelt feature debut that gives us a fresh perspective into the familiar yet complex relationship between an overbearing mother and her carefree teenage daughter.

The film follows single mother Turquoise Jones (Nicole Beharie) — a former Miss Juneteenth winner — as she enters her daughter Kai (Alexis Chikaeze) into this year’s Miss Juneteenth pageant in hopes that she can take the crown and receive a scholarship to a college of her choice; an opportunity Turquoise didn’t get to take due to her unexpected pregnancy with Kai. The journey to becoming Miss Juneteenth is no easier than before, as Turquoise works overtime in order to fund Kai’s gown and entry fees despite Kai’s lack of enthusiasm. Kai would rather work on her dancing and hang out with her boyfriend, much to her mother’s disdain. Division between the pair intensifies as Kai’s father and grandmother come into picture with their own complications, which only puts additional stress on Turquoise. As the road to Miss Juneteeth continues the crown seems to grow further and further out of reach. Regardless the mother-daughter relationship is never one filled with negativity, rather it has a sincerity that many other films don’t quite reach. 

It’s clear that Peoples — a Texas native who both wrote and directed the film — created Miss Juneteeth due to the love and respect she has for where she grew up and the community that surrounded her. The film is based on real Miss Juneteenth pageants which take place in various cities across Texas every year as part of the celebrations held for Juneteenth; a day that commemorates the 19th of June 1865 when enslaved people in Texas were finally freed two years after the Emancipation Proclamation, thus marking the end of slavery in the United States. Although the film is set around Juneteeth it never delves into the history of the day, instead Peoples uses Miss Juneteeth to reflect on what the day represents in modern times. Kai and Turquoise are celebrated for being themselves, regardless of their conflicting ambitions and struggles they may go through. A moment that highlights this spirit is when Kai performs 'Phenomenal Woman' by Maya Angelou, expressing the pride she has for not just herself, but her mother Turquoise.

In many ways Miss Juneteeth defies the conventional mother-daughter relationship typically seen in film – filled with slamming doors and shouting matches – by presenting its characters' emotions in a sincere and subdued manner, through a silent car ride with a single sigh or a gaze with a thousand words behind it. In tense moments there’s still love and respect between the pair shown through a playful smile or a warm hug knowing that they have each other’s support. It’s the performances between by Beharie and Chikaeze that make this possible, showcasing a natural bond and a great understanding of their characters. Beharie's skill as a performer especially stands out due to her own charm and ability to give an honest and loving performance, never having to go to the extreme in order to provide emotion.

This honesty and general spirit of Juneteenth can also be recognised in the cinematography. The world is frequently bright and vibrant but never sugar-coated, helping to provide a sense of authenticity to the film. One that feels joyous but never delusional.

Ultimately Miss Juneteenth is a film that celebrates achievement, whether that be big or small. This is not simply another film that examines the struggle of becoming number one. Turquoise and Kai are never painted as losers within the eyes of the film, even when other characters or the situation may suggest this. The story of a struggling mother living in a world that often reminds her of who she could have been isn’t one that asks for your sympathy but demands that you listen. Miss Juneteenth is a lovingly made drama that takes a unique spin on pageantry, celebrating more than just beauty. 

Kasey Ditton
GFT Youth Board Member

Glasgow Youth Film Festival presents a special preview screening of Miss Juneteenth on Saturday 19 September. Click here to book your tickets.

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