I read a couple of “Miss Juneteenth” reviews and they were dripping with milk and honey. Following the murder of George Floyd and the global protests and violence that followed, there is more interest in African American art and culture, and more compassion. I watched “Da 5 Bloods” the other day and I felt it was a good movie that was too heavily laden with politics and dented with the error of using 60-ish men to play 20 something-year-old men at some points of the show. I read a few reviews of this Spike Lee’s movie but no one was critical of anything in the film. In fact, they gushed over it. It was a good movie, don’t misquote me, but it wasn’t a great movie at all.
When I saw the title “Miss Juneteenth”, I immediately knew it would be allowed to get away with murder if it goes that for a neck and slashes it. Juneteenth is an important holiday for African Americans and America as a whole. I didn’t expect anyone to bad mouth a movie named after it in the Floyd Era. And I read a couple of reviews and they were all cordial and outright praise-singing (the movie has a score of 99% on Rotten Tomatoes). Or they just talk about anything but the movie it sets out to review (LATimes used a larger percentage of its review to talk about the star Nicole Beharie’s career decline after “Sleepy Hollow” series).
I watched “Miss Juneteenth” with a suspicious eye. I was seated on the edge of my sofa to catch whatever detail of what doesn’t work that I may catch and that others would give the blind eye treatment or dismiss as an unimportant little speck in a hidden corner of the cassock of the film. To say I didn’t enjoy the film is to say I am not able to be critical and still open-minded to be entertained (and it is to be defensive about the show which is part of what I was worried about in the first place – the movie getting shielded from blames because it has to do with black history and culture).
The movie was written and directed by Channing Godfrey Peoples, a native of Fort Worth, Texas and set in Fort Worth, Texas. Before now, my only awareness of Fort Worth is through the novels of Lee Child who always made references to the military base in the city. Now, I have something to think of whenever the city is mentioned. It was Peoples’ first movie as a director and she did an above-average job.
See also: The review of Just Mercy
The first thing that strikes me about the film is the beauty of Turquoise Jones played by Nicole Baharie. I am now used but refused to accept the fact that a lot of non-beautiful people contest and win pageants. It was a welcome sight to see the striking looks of Turq an ex-Miss Juneteenth. She is so beautiful, vulnerable, and youngish that she could run again for Miss Juneteenth and still take home the prize she won in 2014 in 2019.
It was an important goal scored by Peoples to cast a really gorgeous woman in the titular character. The plot revolves around a former Miss Juneteenth who won the pageant, got a full scholarship into a historically black university but life happened. She gets pregnant, drops out of school, and now struggles to raise her daughter with irregular support from her baby daddy whom she still sleeps with. To Turq, there is only one way to make amends for throwing her life away, make her uninterested daughter a Miss Juneteenth and give her daughter the future she could have but does not have for herself.
I don’t think if anyone pitches this story to Peoples she would agree to make the money. That is if Peoples wasn’t born in Fort Worth were she spend years attending such pageants. The story doesn’t seem enough on paper. But it is okay, it doesn’t have to be enough on paper. Many films on paper are thin and bony. It is the director who gives them flesh. Take for instance “1917”. In a sentence, it is about two soldiers who set out, across enemy lines, to warn a distant regiment who were about to walk into a German trap. Just this but Sam Mendes gave us a rich movie that was full of fireworks and powerfully emotive.
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Peoples’ tried her best with “Miss Juneteenth” but I came out of the movie feeling like it wasn’t enough. There was a certain incompleteness in the movie. The stake is high for Nicole but it wasn’t demonstrated enough. But I still love the movie because of its cultural importance and the fact that Nicole Baharie acting was powerful. You cannot blame the other characters for what they displayed in the show. An actor can only work with the material she is given and Turq’s daughter, Kai, played by the American born of Nigerian parents, Alexis Chikaeze. She would go places as an actress but she could have started with a movie which gives her greater room to flex her talents.
And in a not-insignificant number of the time, I felt like giving up on watching the movie because it dragged more than a little. I only kept at it because I fell in love with Nicole at first sight and I was too disciplined to forward the movie and end the end. (I am sorry, it is not because it has to do with Black culture. I am Nigerian, I have more than 300 ethnic cultural heritages around me; I rarely approach any black movie solely for what it will teach me about black history and culture: I am not sorry.) But when I was done with the movie, when the credits began to roll after mother and daughter have a heads-hug, I was glad I watched the movie.
I strongly suggest that you watch it. It is a movie you would love. You just have to sit through some of its draggy potholes and you are good. A 6/10 movie.
Image source: CNN.com