Nicole Beharie, Kendrick Sampson, Alexis Chikaeze
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…nuanced and authentic performances…
‘Juneteenth’ is celebrated in many black communities in the US, but it had its beginnings in the state of Texas, as a day of remembrance marking the end of slavery in that state back in 1865. Texas didn’t actually enact emancipation of its slaves until two and a half years after the rest of the US states. Regardless, it doesn’t lessen the day’s significance.
In Miss Juneteenth, Turquoise (Nicole Beharie) works long hours of hard graft as she struggles to watch out for her born again Christian (yet still secretly alcoholic) mother (Lori Hayes) and negotiate a tricky relationship with the father of her daughter Kai (Alexis Chikaeze), who is the amiable, if slightly flaky mechanic, Ronnie (Kendrick Sampson).
Ronnie still harbours romantic feelings for Turquoise, but she’s no longer interested. She’s dogged by the ever-present feeling that she’s settling for less than she could have had, something that prevents her from committing to a life with Ronnie and spending her days treading water on the outskirts of Fort Worth, Texas.
Making ends meet means working two jobs, one at a local funeral home, as well as working at Wayman’s BBQ with the affable and ever garrulous Betty Ray (Liz Mikel).
In 2004, Turquoise was the winner of the Miss Juneteenth beauty pageant. Other pageant winners moved on, left town and met with successful careers and marriages to powerful men, but her familial entanglements and bad decisions kept their hooks in her, so she never made it out. Seeing a chance to give her daughter the opportunity she failed to make good on, Turquoise pressures Kai to enter the pageant.
Writer/Director Channing Godfrey Peoples’ gets nuanced and authentic performances from her cast, particularly Nicole Beharie (who played Rachel Robinson to Chadwick Boseman’s Jackie in 42) whose stoic Turquoise keeps pushing ahead, no matter the obstacles, reconciling the life she has with the one she’d hoped for. It’s a quietly powerful performance and one that beautifully depicts a way of life that’s the reality for many Black Americans (and one that gets short shrift on the silver screen), poetically illustrating the bittersweet reality for those for whom the American Dream is a mirage and where catching a break seems an impossibility.