MISS JUNETEENTH – Review by Loren King

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What a lovely film for right now. Miss Juneteenth is a feel good story with grit, an empowerment tale and family drama about Black lives rich with three dimensional characters and as atmospheric as the Fort Worth, Texas bar and barbecue joint where much of the actions takes place. Like Support the Girls, it’s a delicate and powerful film that beautifully depicts the lives of working women and the small daily indignities that come from waiting tables and tending bar, agonizing over an electric bill and wanting something to call your own. The movie is anchored by a terrific performance from Nicole Beharie as Turquoise, a former Miss Juneteenth pageant winner in Fort Worth. The film weaves the history of Juneteenth, the date when Texas slaves learned they were emancipated, a full two years after the rest of the country, into the story in a natural way. The annual pageant and accompanying celebration is a source of pride for the folks in the community who hang out at the bar as well as for the teenage girls who compete for a full college scholarship. That’s what Turquoise desperately wants for her daughter Kai (Alexis Chikaeze). Although the teenager grudgingly goes along with her mother’s excitement and effort, she’d much rather be practicing for a dance competition. Director Channing Godfrey Peoples creates a vividly detailed, lived-in world where even the secondary characters are richly drawn: Turquoise’s coworker and boss; Kai’s father from whom Turquoise is separated but still involved; and her devout but hard-drinking mother are all rendered with nuance and complexity. Miss Juneteenth offers a poignant take on regret and missed opportunities that gives added resonance to the more familiar mother-daughter story. Even with some predictable moments as the pageant gets underway, this film crackles with authenticity and humanity.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Miss Juneteenth is AWFJ’s Movie of the Week for June 19, 2020

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Loren King

Loren King's features and film reviews appear regularly in the Boston Globe, Boston Spirit magazine and the Provincetown Banner. She writes Scene Here, a localfilm column, in the Boston Sunday Globe. A member of the Boston Society of Film Critics since 2002, she served as its president for five years.