The last film of Feminist February is upon us and it feels sad to be saying goodbye. Not that we strictly have to if we choose not to, after all this is our world and we can craft it any way we like. Our picks for the month have been varied and for the most part rich and fulfilling. There have been bees, overbearing family members, disgruntled pimps and teen pregnancy – and this week we tackle: pageantry. Well, pageantry and the crushing weight of other people’s expectation.
While we haven’t agreed the theme for March, you can rest assure we’ll continue to mix it up as per. Until then, however – to the crowning of Miss Juneteenth, 2019.
“I just want something for myself.”
Miss Juneteenth (2020)
A former beauty queen and single mom prepares her rebellious teenage daughter for the “Miss Juneteenth” pageant.
Turquoise Jones (Nicole Beharie) is the single mother of soon-to-be fifteen year old Kai (Alexis Chikaeze). The pair live in Fort Worth, Texas where Turq holds down several jobs to make ends meet. She’s the former winner of the local Miss Juneteenth pageant, which comes with a full scholarship to a historically Black college. This year, Turq has entered Kai into the competition, despite her daughter’s very obvious lack of interest.
Turquoise is determined Kai will have the opportunity she herself almost had, before she fell pregnant and her dreams were somewhat derailed. While she doesn’t resent her daughter, she is working overtime to ensure she takes home the crown. While the pair get by – no thanks to Kai’s well-meaning but irresponsible father, Ronnie (Kendrick Sampson) – Turq wants her child to go on to reach the same heady heights of success as other former winners of Miss J.
And when I say Turq is forever being reminded of what could of been… her mother always has something to say (despite being far from perfect herself), while the locals are on hand to make her feel less than while simultaneously singing the praises of the other winners, who’ve gone on to be career women and politician’s wives.
While Turq’s main focus is the pageant – and raising enough money to get Kai the best dress – her daughter has her eye on joining a dance troupe and, of course, a boy – which strikes fear into her mother’s heart. When she suggests bringing a dance number to the talent portion of her pageant turn, T refuses, telling Kai she’ll win with the Maya Angelou poem Phenomenal Woman (just like she did).
Meanwhile, Turquoise is still in love with childhood sweetheart Ronnie, despite their issues – while the owner of the funeral home she works at openly offers her the world if she’ll just pick him instead. Things are tough all round for our girl but she’s doing the damn thing, singlehandedly. When her boss at her second job gives her a piece of essential life advice, a seed of hope is planted.
Could Turquoise defy the haters with her own success, even if it looks very different to theirs? And – will Kai see her role in the pageant through to the end – or will she bolt? You know what to do.
I think this film really captures the complexity of the mother/daughter relationship well. Our two leads really nail the chemistry – and Kai comes across as such a mature child – which is both sad and impressive at the same time. There’s something (which I noticed but also saw someone else mention in a Letterboxd review) about the way she positions herself beside her mother while she’s talking to different people (sometimes her grandma, sometimes her father) that’s very powerful. She doesn’t have to say anything to be impactful on screen and that, friends, is fucking good acting.
The film also ruminates heavily on the subject of disappointment, not only Turquoise’s own but also of the people around her. It’s a bitter pill to swallow to watch the other Juneteenth winners go on to achieve incredible things while you’re left behind, I would imagine. Especially when you haven’t quite moved on from the elements holding you back, like your sexy but immature ex. I feel for Turq and rooted for her as she found a new dream beyond her daughter’s place in a popularity contest.
There are some beautiful moments here and I got a lump in my throat more than once. Maybe it’s that mother/daughter thing again – sometimes it is encapsulated so perfectly I couldn’t help but get emotional. It made me want to call mine immediately. Kai too moves me when she takes her boyfriend’s advice to take the thing she doesn’t want to do but feels she has to – and make it hers. Phenomenal Woman is flawless as is but a modern twist could never hurt. I feel hopeful for these women and love them together – just the way they are.
– Genres: Drama
– IMDb user rating: 6.5
– My score: 4/5
– Runtime: 99 mins