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This debut feature from Channing Godfrey Peoples is lit with pride for Black Texan culture: the BBQ, the beauty pageants, historic black colleges and Juneteenth itself. This is the annual 19 June holiday commemorating the day in 1865, when enslaved black people in Texas were liberated, two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had outlawed slavery.
Nicole Beharie (Shame, Little Fires Everywhere) stars as Miss Juneteenth 2004 – otherwise known as Turquoise “Turq” Jones. She is a single mother who scrimps every penny she earns working at the local bar and funeral home, in the hope that her 15-year-old daughter Kai (Alexis Chikaeze) will repeat her glory days at this year’s pageant. This is more than mere vanity: the new Miss Juneteenth will have her tuition fees paid at the historically black college of her choice.
For a woman in Turq’s situation, freedom means choosing from a limited set of options, and always with some sacrifice. It means trying to make the best decision under financial pressure and always in the judgmental glare of neighbours and relatives. She dreams of a better life for her daughter, but Kai, like most teenagers, has her own ideas.
The beauty pageant has been a means to explore mother-daughter relationships before (Drop Dead Gorgeous, Dumplin’), but rarely with a black woman at its centre, and never with such unhurried specificity. Even as Turq lives vicariously through her daughter, and hitches her wagon to various unreliable men (Insecure’s Kendrick Sampson plays Kai’s father), the realisation slowly dawns that she must find something for herself. For anyone who values diverse storytelling, Peoples’ portrait of a hardworking woman on the up is a tale of hopefulness – and a reason to hope in itself.
• Miss Juneteenth is in cinemas and on digital platforms.
Source: The Guardian
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