Everyone Needs to Watch ‘Miss Juneteenth’
Channing Godfrey Peoples is the filmmaker we all need to know
Channing Godfrey Peoples is the Black Southern woman filmmaker we didn’t know we needed. Her debut feature film, Miss Juneteenth — the Sundance darling now available on all digital platforms — feels as urgently necessary as Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. The character Turquoise Jones, portrayed by the tragically underutilized Nicole Beharie, is today’s Janie Crawford. Like Janie, Turquoise is a Black Southern woman on the all-important journey to discover herself, even if she doesn’t know it yet.
Turquoise is a mother who refuses to let the promise of progress skip over her daughter. For her, a do-over is the solution to her seemingly failed life. She wants 15-year-old Kai to win the prized “Miss Juneteenth” title that her mother once claimed. Except this time, the teen can take full advantage of the HBCU scholarship that comes with the title. The only problem is Kai doesn’t see it that way. She’d much rather join the dance team than compete in a pageant. Turquoise, who is already living paycheck to paycheck, goes full throttle into paying-for-a-pageant mode, picking up extra hours at the hole-in-the-wall where she waitresses and scheduling as many makeup artist side gigs as the local funeral home allows.
In telling this nuanced story, Peoples centers Black women in a way rarely seen on film. The ability to do this is directly influenced by Black women’s literature, the filmmaker says.
“I really feel like ‘Miss Juneteenth’ found me.”
“My cinematic journey didn’t start with picking up a camera. It started in a literary way,” she explains. “I read Toni Morrison and Alice Walker. Gloria Naylor, Maya Angelou [whose “Phenomenal Woman” plays a small but important role in the film], all these great women that defined for me a sense of what it was like to be a Black woman in America. So, naturally my stories are about Black women taking a step forward in their journeys and their lives.”
That Peoples weaves all that Black girl magic into a film with a Black historic backdrop is all the more impressive. Today, many Americans are learning that Juneteenth marks the date of June 19…