This Indie Drama Dropped On Juneteenth — But You’ll Want To Watch It Forever

Welcome to “What’s Good,” a weekly column where we break down what’s soothing, distracting, or just plain good in the streaming world.
Photo: Courtesy of Rambo/Vertical Entertainment.
What’s Good? Miss Juneteenth, available now on VOD
Who It’s Good For: Yes, technically, Juneteenth, the holiday celebrating the day enslaved Black people in Texas were told they were free — thus marking the end of slavery in America — is over (until next year). But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t continue to celebrate the movie Miss Juneteenth. It’s for anyone who likes stories about womanhood, complicated families, and/or pageants (like Dumplin’ or Little Miss Sunshine). But it’s also an exploration of coming-of-age while Black and what it means to be successful. It’s for fans of Selah and the Spades and Jezebel and cinephiles who love a good indie drama. 
How Good Is It? Whew. I use that word for a lot. It’s more of a sound or an exclamation than a word. I use it when something is good — really good — as a placeholder for a lot of other words that I can’t find in the moment to describe my excitement over an exhilarating piece of art. After I watched Miss Juneteenth, I let out a breathless WHEW. I love this film so much. It’s timely, of course, since it dropped last Friday on Juneteenth 2020, but the film tackles freedom in ways seemingly unrelated to the emancipation of 1865. As my colleague Ineye Komonibo wrote in her interview with the film’s writer/director Channing Godfrey Peoples and its cast, “liberation requires constant reimagining.” 
In Miss Juneteenth, Turquoise Jones (the incomparable Nicole Beharie) feels shackled by dreams unrealized. She won the Miss Juneteenth pageant in her Texas town when she was 15, the prize which included a scholarship to the HBCU of her choice, but she got pregnant and never finished school. The film opens with Turquoise scrubbing a toilet, a symbol of the life she leads versus the one she wanted, and a reminder that she’s doing anything she can to provide for her daughter, Kai (Alexis Chikaeze), who is about to turn 15, and is the perfect age to enter the pageant herself.
As expected, Turquoise pins all of her baggage on her daughter, and pushes her to train to win Miss Juneteenth. Even though this seems like a familiar tale, an overbearing mother attempting to live vicariously through her unwilling daughter, Miss Juneteenth takes that cliché and gives it depth and nuance. Turquoise’s disappointment with her life is layered with her love for her daughter, her complex relationship with her own mother, and how entangled she is with her wasteman of a husband (the distractingly handsome Kendrick Sampson aka Nathan from Insecure). 
It’s hard to tell if Turquoise is trying to make sure her daughter doesn’t make the same mistakes she did (naturally, she hates Kai’s boyfriend) or if she’s trying to prove to herself that she still is, deep down, that girl who won the Miss Juneteenth pageant, the 15-year-old with the world at her fingertips.
This is why Miss Juneteenth is so good. It’s an affecting slow burn of a film that articulates the struggles of growing up, especially when your path to adulthood includes being a Black woman raising a Black girl in America. It’s a searing narrative that examines parenting, love, and what it means to be free at a time when that quest is still so elusive. How do you discover your own dreams while suffocating under the pressure and constraints of someone else’s? That’s the crux of Miss Juneteenth and the struggle of being Black in America. It’s why this is a film that transcends its release date. 
Things that are also good: 
• Remembering to take care of ourselves and doing some Trap Soul Yoga
• Celebrating Pride by watching The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson because Black Lives Matter means Black Trans Lives Matter
• The glorious awkwardness and entertainment of Dating Around: Season 2 
• Educating yourself on the history of resistance in Toronto by watching the short film It Takes A Riot: Race, Rebellion, Reform
Defunding the police

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