Miss Juneteenth tells the story of a mother desperate to have her daughter live a life that she never could while maintaining a demanding work-life balance.
Turquoise Jones (Nicole Beharie) is a former Miss Juneteenth pageant winner who unlike past winners, has not gone on to obtain a regarded career like some of her counterparts have. Her daughter, Kai (Alexis Chikaeze), is currently of age to enter the 2019 competition and Turquoise is desperate for her to win it, and the grand prize of a full college scholarship. Kai, however, is uninterested and dreams of pursuing her passion for dance. Turquoise will try her best to convince Kai to participate in the pageant with a view to win while doing her best to make ends meet working in a local dive bar, and navigating a rocky love life.
The story is one that’s inherently relatable; the bond between parent and child is something that most people can connect with. Director Channing Godfrey Peoples has captured this relationship with raw honesty, making for a convincing dynamic between mother and daughter. Mother Jones’s desire to see her daughter follow in her footsteps and succeed where she couldn’t, while daughter Kai pulls away from that path makes for insightful commentary on the generational differences between the characters, which opens up interesting post-viewing dialogue. Is mother Jones right in pushing Kai into something she doesn’t have her heart set on? Should Kai be more open and trusting of her mother’s ideas for her future? These are just some of the thought-provoking questions the story raises, amongst others.
The story and themes in Miss Juneteenth are perfect for dramatic adaptation. While it succeeds, for the most part, there are times where it feels overdramatic through its pace and editing, despite featuring great performances from its principal cast, all of whom provide a lived-in feel to their characters. The film also misses the opportunity of delivering a high-stakes conflict between its characters. Sure, we sympathize with them, but it never feels as though they’re in a make-or-break situation. There are some aspects of the story that could have been developed further to raise the stakes and increase the audience’s engagement with the character’s plights but were not, which ultimately works against the film.
Miss Juneteenth offers a delicate look at the bond between a mother and daughter with differing ideas of their futures which is at times powerful, and other times drawn-out. The characters don’t seem to face any significant danger, which is an element that’s sorely missed from the film and is something that could have made for more riveting viewing. Despite its flaws, Miss Juneteenth does still tell a pertinent life story that people can learn something from.
While at The Juilliard School, Nicole Beharie received the prestigious Robin Williams Scholarship. She was the first recipient by a unanimous vote from Juilliard’s drama division faculty.