Miss Juneteenth is about a mother and daughter, as they strive to make a better life. The mother, Turquoise, is a former Miss Juneteenth, who was granted a full university scholarship with the title, but through circumstances almost certainly to do with her drunk mother and waster boyfriend, was forced to drop out, and now struggles to make ends meet. She is determined her daughter will not face the same fate, and does everything she can to make sure her daughter uses this opportunity to fulfil her true potential.
Miss Juneteenth is not just a pageant. It commemorates the freeing of the last slaves, 2 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, and draws a line straight from them to these girls, who use their scholarships to go on to be lawyers and doctors, surpassing the dreams of their ancestors. It is a way to pass on history to upcoming generations and inspire others. It celebrates the best of what the community is, and provides role models.
The daughter, Kai, isn’t sure if she gets it. Although she loves her mother, knows and respects the sacrifices she is making for her future, Kai doesn’t see how winning this pageant is gonna change her life, when it so obviously hasn’t benefitted her mother.
The film follows mostly practical concerns, and is told through the mundane scraping together of tips at a bar, trying to drum up shifts doing make-up at the morticians, and cutting back on everything to save every last dime. The basic financial obstacles to the pageant – entry fees and a dress – go from barely achievable to impossible as the film progresses. Mostly due to the shitty part-time dad, who talks a excellent game, but, while Turquoise is out there working two jobs with no electricity in her house, he has taken the wean to the pub with him to gamble over a game of dominoes. He even manages to get himself arrested on a bullshit charge, and she has to spend a chunk of Kai’s money bailing him out. Classic wasting bastard shit.
From the myriad barriers and knockbacks Turquoise faces, you’d think this is a film about the inescapabilty of class. Turquoise was an unusual winner, coming from the wrong side of town in a thrift store dress, who won through her sheer determination. And even when she had access to the benefit of a full scholarship, there were just too many burdens for her to thrive. And she ended up exactly where she was always meant to end up.
But that’s not it. And the emotional crescendo of the movie is when Kai finally gets it. The preparation and journey of the Miss Juneteenth pageant taught her discipline, perseverance, holding your head high, and speaking in your own voice. It taught her hard work, and insisting on your own worth in front of the crowd. It taught her the importance of always holding yourself up as a benefit to your community, someone you can be proud of. And these things it taught her, it taught her mother. Which is why when they still have nothing, her mother worked, and sacrificed, and put her child first, carrying herself with integrity and dignity. That’s how Juneteenth benefited her mother.
And that is what she will take away from Juneteenth, win or lose.
Drew a tear to my een.