★★★★ - STUFF
- Compelling drama displays contempt for America's racial divide -
In small town Texas, the annual Miss Juneteenth pageant brings the Black side of town, at least, to a halt. Winners will be offered a college scholarship, but second place might as well be nowhere.
In 2004, Turquoise Jones (Nicole Beharie. American Violet) was the winner, but life got in the way and she could never claim the prize that might have lifted her out of poverty. We are never told for sure, but perhaps we will assume that a teenage pregnancy was the reason. The timing fits, as we are introduced to Kai, Turquoise's 15-year-old daughter (Alexis Chikaeze), who is now poised to enter her own Miss Juneteenth pageant, the 2019 edition.
What unfolds is a simmering, quite perfectly pitched battle of wills between the conflicted Turquoise and the willful and rebellious Kai. The daughter hates the strictures that entering the pageant brings to her life, as Turquoise openly disapproves of her boyfriend, takes control of her wardrobe and forbids her from joining a dance troupe, knowing that in a small community, reputation is everything.
Meanwhile, Turquoise is still seeing Kai's father. But he's not exactly the committed type. He would marry Turquoise in a heartbeat, but she understands him better than he knows himself, and she's not falling for it.
Over a slightly leisurely 99 minutes, Miss Juneteenth lays out a story in which not a lot seems to happen, but the shifts of opinion, attitude and allegiance are palpable. The film never rises to anger, but its contempt for the American racial divide is implicit in every moment. And I particularly enjoyed an ending that declines triumphalism in favour of a far more durable victory.
This is an, at times, beautifully well written and performed film, from an America we don't hear enough from. Go and have a look. You won't regret it.
- Graeme Tuckett, STUFF
Miss Juneteenth is now playing at Light House Petone!