The Juneteenth holiday celebrates June 19th, 1865, the day enslaved Texans finally received the message of the Emancipation Proclamation — more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the executive order that put an end to slavery in America. It’s a holiday that has been brought to the fore in recent weeks following the gruesome killing of George Floyd and protests and movements that strive to dismantle systemic racism in this country.
Long before organizations set aside Juneteeth as a paid holiday and Donald Trump’s claim that he made the day “famous,” Texas natives like Miss Juneteenth helmer Channing Godfrey Peoples have partaken in annual traditions that commemorate the holiday, from parades to cookouts, church services and other community gatherings.
“Juneteenth, for me, was something that I looked forward to every year as a kid,” said the director, who is making her feature debut with Miss Juneteenth, which is out on VOD today. “I remember looking forward to it because I knew I was going to see the parade and there was going to be blues music and dance, and we were going to eat barbecue, and I was going to see folks I hadn’t seen in a long time. But what I most looked forward to, I remember, was the Miss Juneteenth Pageant. I looked forward to that because as a young black girl growing up in Fort Worth, Texas I got to see all of these really, really beautiful black women on stage who were being celebrated for their talent, and abilities, and intelligence, and I was right there celebrating with them.”
In her new film, which comes on the 155th anniversary of the holiday, Peoples highlights the Miss Juneteenth pageant as the backdrop to a story about a mother who makes every effort to provide the best life for her child. The film stars Nicole Baharie as former beauty queen Turquoise Jones, now a hardworking single mom preparing her rebellious teenage daughter Kai (Alexis Chikaeze) for the pageant, hoping to keep her from repeating the same mistakes in life that she made.
“Thinking thematically about Juneteenth and my approach to telling this story, I really wanted to portray, in Turquoise’s journey, she’s finding her own sense of freedom, in a way, by coming to terms with her past and finding a new way to reshape her dream later in life,” Peoples said.
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