Miss Juneteenth: The BRWC Review. By Alif Majeed.
Miss Juneteenth’s first scene has the main character lovingly caressing the pageant crown she had won a lifetime ago. It says quite a bit about all her shattered dreams and problems with the best-laid plans that she might have had. It is a very relatable scene to anyone who had ever caught themselves reminiscing about a long lost part of their past they so severely wish to change.
The movie is about Turquoise Jones (Nicole Beharie), a former winner of the Miss Juneteenth beauty pageant. Despite winning the pageant and getting full scholarships to prestigious educational institutions, her dream was cut short as she got pregnant while still in school. This makes her push her daughter hard to compete as she is determined to make sure that her daughter Kai (Alexis Chikaeze) does not repeat her mistakes.
Kai’s utter lack of interest and reluctance in sharing her parent’s dream plays a considerable part in their dynamic and is utterly relatable for anyone who has ever had their parent’s choices forced down on them. Especially when she makes her desire to dance rather than participate in the competition evident to her mother on more than one occasion.
Add to this Turquoise’s complicated relationships with her ex-husband and Kai’s father, and her religiously fanatic mother spills out to further strain her relationship with her daughter.
A significant part of why Miss Juneteenth works is its cast. It is tough not to root for Nicole Beharie, who may as well be playing the title character. She does not try to portray her as a victim, even if there is ample scope for that. And she also might not always be making the best choices for both her and Kai.
An excellent example of it is her toxic relationship with her husband, which has had a massive part in how her life has shaped up. She continues having a casual fling with him, despite seeming like a person who would make far saner choices.
Her paranoid reactions at facing the nightmare scenario that Kai might make the same mistakes she once did make sense purely because she perfectly sells how much she had suffered, making those awful choices.
Her helplessness at realizing that her husband had let her down again comes to a head when he fails to cough up money for the pageant’s dress for Kai. To his credit, Kendrick Sampson infuses enough charm in the role that you understand why Turqoiuse gave him a free pass all his life. Despite being the deadbeat disappointment that he has been. His odd logic in not being enthusiastic enough to cough up the cash for the dress almost makes sense even if he tries to justify his screw up.
Alexis Chikaeze is also outstanding as Kai on the other side of the spectrum. What also stands out is the way Turquoise and Kai deals with people. While Turquoise prefers not to take things silently, Kai chooses to be introspective and be quiet about things. When her fellow participants call her out for her lack of table etiquettes, Kai cowers down in shame, and her uncomfortableness clearly shows.
This is why her final act at the talent contest comes as an act of defiance meant to silence everyone. Especially is seeing her mother’s reaction, who, until then, would always have a snarky comeback for anything and anyone, is silently watching in mute pride.
It also says a lot about how people can get stuck in the past without really moving on. Take the case of Turquoise and her rivalry with her fellow Miss Juneteeth participant Clarissa (Lisha Hackney). Despite being more successful than Turquoise, there is still resentment at coming in second in her childhood. Just a few glances and snide remarks at each other is all that takes to say a lot about school rivalries and the reason why someone who did not make it, at least in their head, dreads to go to their reunion.
Whether Kai and Turquoise succeed at the pageant is something that should not be spoilt here. But the movie’s final scene is just perfect because there is a real sense of an ending. Not all loose ends have been tied up, and these characters are far from being on the road to that perfect life Turquoise always strived to achieve. But there is real hope that maybe they will be fine when the two sit down and share that piece of chicken.
Shoehorning Miss Juneteenth, as a simple mother-daughter relationship movie, is doing it a grave injustice. It is a must-see movie for anyone who wishes they could course-correct their future from all the mistakes they made in the past. Now, who among us wouldn’t dream of doing that?
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