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CULTURE

‘Miss Juneteenth’ Premiered on Historic Holiday

Juneteenth is more relevant than ever with the ongoing protests against racial inequality that African Americans face today. Fittingly, a new film premiered on the holiday of its namesake, entitled Miss Juneteenth. Is it a historical period piece, or a modern rumination on the holiday?

Although not an official government holiday yet, Juneteenth takes place on June 19 every year throughout the United States. It originated in Texas in 1865, where the last slaves were finally freed — following the Civil War, which was two and a half years earlier.

Written and directed by Channing Godfrey Peoples, Miss Juneteenth is set in modern-day suburban Fort Worth, Texas, centering on a teen pageant called Miss Juneteenth. It’s a beauty pageant that offers scholarships to historic black universities, tied to the commemoration of slaves in Texas being freed two years after the Emancipation Proclamation.

Turquoise Jones (played by Nicole Beharie, “Shame,” “Sleepy Hollow”), is a single mother and former winner of the pageant. She enters her 15-year-old daughter, Kai (Alexis Chikaeze) in the same pageant despite her daughter’s obvious lack of enthusiasm.

Director Peoples may have drawn from her own experiences growing up in Texas, where she celebrated Juneteenth and attended Miss Juneteenth pageants.

Although the film isn’t directly about Juneteenth, it has undertones and allusions to the holiday and the racial issues surrounding it.

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Reviews of the films have noted that the movie tackles multiple themes such as the significance of Juneteenth, the legacy of racism in predatory bank lending practices, and society’s fixation on physical beauty. The film has also been praised for its notable inclusion of several black female characters onscreen and its authentic depiction of blacks lives onscreen, without being preachy or contrived.

After the death of George Floyd last month, the debate on racial inequality has surged to unheard of heights in modern history. The subject of diversity, representation, and racism is being felt in all industries, including entertainment. Even a small film like Miss Juneteenth may feel more relevant than ever, with its subject and themes.

The film premiered at Sundance 2020 in the U.S. Dramatic Competition, and has received the Louis Black “Lone Star” Award from the South By Southwest film festival this year.

Miss Juneteenth premiered June 19 in theaters, digital and on demand.

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