Films that center a former beauty queen who tries to get her offspring to step into her footsteps isn’t anything new. ‘Miss Juneteenth‘ takes two different routes. The first one is the rather obvious one I just mentioned, the other one is a much more evocative one, that tackles the struggles of motherhood and living up to certain expectations.

Turquoise Jones (Nicole Beharie – ‘Black Mirror‘) is a single mom juggling several jobs to provide for her rebellious daughter. Spending most of her time at Wayman’s BBQ & Lounge, Turquoise desperately tries to get her daughter Kai (Alexis Chikaeze) ready for the annual Miss Juneteenth (referring to the day slavery was abolished in Texas) pageant. Even though Turquoise’s life didn’t bring the wealth and fame that usually comes with the title, but determined as she is, she’ll make sure Kai will do it right this time. A battle that doesn’t seem as simple as it sounds…

The feature debut of director/writer Channing Godfrey Peoples isn’t always as streamlined of a film as you’d expect, but neither is the life of the film’s protagonist. Channing has a story to tell, and while the message seems a bit muddled at first, it speaks loud and clear by the time we reach the third act. Bittersweet at times, ‘Miss Juneteenth‘ carries a big heart for female empowerment, and the entire talented cast knows perfectly how to elevate the dialogue and scenes that easily could’ve fallen flat in the hands of someone else.

Nicole Beharie isn’t a well known name in mainstream media, but once again proves she should be. Her portrayal of the strong willed Turquoise, who seems tough but carries a heart of gold, carries the entire film. She’s front and center, and delivers every line as if she’s personally been through a similar situation. A maturely confident performance that deserves recognition. Her on screen daughter Alexis Chikaeze seems confident right next to a powerhouse like Beharie, and with this being her on screen debut, she’s for sure a name to watch.

While Turquoise is so desperately trying to make Kai take over her legendary status as Miss Juneteenth, her daughter has completely different ambitions. She’d like to be a dancer and doesn’t care for the entire pageant-world. Her mother ignores her wishes and desires, and while Kai tries to meet her mother halfway, financial insecurity and men longing for attention make Turquoise’s daily life not as easy as she’d like it to be.

In the end, Miss Juneteenth mostly avoids predictable outcomes and delves deeper into the bond between mother and daughter. It’s an engaging slice of life and a rare example of how films about pageants don’t necessarily need to be just about becoming an established beauty queen. Miss Juneteenth is a lesson in learning how to love yourself, even if you’ve failed your aspirations in life. We’re more than just the crown that’s given to us. We create our own and wear it with pride.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

IN SELECT AUSTRALIAN CINEMAS OCTOBER 8
*Excluding Victoria

Review – ‘Miss Juneteenth’

Reviewed online (screener provided by publicist), October 1, 2020. Rating: M. Running time: 103 min.

PRODUCTION: A Rialto Distribution release of a Sailor Bear, Ley Line Entertainment production. Producers: Toby Halbrooks, Tim Headington, Jeanie Igoe, James M. Johnston, Theresa Page, Neil Creque Williams. Executive producers: Nate Kamiya, David Lowery.

CREW: Director/screenplay: Channing Godfrey Peoples. Editing: Courtney Ware. Cinematography: Daniel Patterson. Score: Emily Rice.

WITH: Nicole Beharie, Kendrick Sampson, Alexis Chikaeze, Lori Hayes, Marcus M. Mauldin, Liz Mikel, Akron Watson, Phyllis Cicero, Lisha Hackney.

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