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Miss Juneteenth review - a ray of Texan sunshine | reviews, news & interviews

Miss Juneteenth review - a ray of Texan sunshine

Miss Juneteenth review - a ray of Texan sunshine

Debuting director Channing Godfrey Peoples brings some heart to pageantry

Nicole Beharie and Alexis Chikaeze as mother Turquoise Jones and daughter Kai

Beauty queen pageants have long been ripe for parody, from their plastic glamour to the Machiavellian competitiveness. Miss Juneteenth opts for a much more nuanced approach, using the pageant as a focal point for a mother and daughter navigating their difficult present and possible future.

Beauty queen pageants have long been ripe for parody, from their plastic glamour to the Machiavellian competitiveness. Miss Juneteenth opts for a much more nuanced approach, using the pageant as a focal point for a mother and daughter navigating their difficult present and possible future. It’s a universal story of familial love, told and performed with deftness and real personality.

Nicole Beharie stars as Turquoise Jones, a former Miss Juneteenth, whose life never lived up to the promise of that title. Unlike so many high-flying winners, she’s a single mother working two jobs as a bar worker and a mortuary beautician. Her entire life is geared towards raising funds for her daughter Kai (Alexis Chikaeze) to enter the pageant, and fulfil the promise that she never did. But this is Turquoise’s dream, not Kai’s.

Debuting director/writer Channing Godfrey Peoples does a fantastic job at creating a lived-in world. This is a film that could only be made by someone who grew up in Texas attending Miss Juneteenth pageants. Authenticity grounds the story, and gives weight to the stakes of winning, especially when a scholarship is on offer and the family have to choose between buying a dress or paying the electricity bills. Miss JuneteenthIn Turquoise Jones, we have a pageant mom that bucks every pushy stereotype. She isn’t a mother living vicariously through her daughter’s exploits; she’s a working-class woman trying to give her daughter opportunities through the only route she knows. Turquoise’s strained relationship with her own alcoholic, religious mother colours her actions. She’s desperate things turn out different for her and Kai, but falls into the same authoritarian punishments when Kai pushes back.

Beharie does more than carry the film; she’s the gravitational centre. It’s a powerhouse performance that is most affecting in the quietest moments. She tells a story in a simple look, like when her daughter wears a tiara on her birthday, or a look away in the case of her well-meaning but unreliable estranged husband. Beharie’s best known for her roles in 42 and the TV adaptation of Sleepy Hollow, but Miss Juneteenth shows the best is yet to come for this magnetic actor.

Despite the dramatic stakes, the film radiates that steady Southern heat. Any clunky exposition glides through thanks to the naturalistic delivery of the cast. Similarly, the cinematography is almost documentary-like, letting scenes breathe and capturing the essence of locations, from the BBQ bar where Turquoise works, to the impressive Juneteenth parade.

In its bare bones, Miss Juneteenth is a familiar story of a single parent too pressured to realise what she and her daughter actually need – well told, if cliched. However, it’s everything built around this premise that makes the film a triumph. Channing Godfrey Peoples has crafted an authentic black, working-class story, lead from the front by Beharie’s towering Turquoise Jones. A much needed cinematic ray of hope in these unnerving times.

@OwenRichards91

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