Juneteenth, Juneteenth, Juneteenth

Definition: Juneteenth – a portmanteau of June and nineteenth – commemorates the day enslaved African-Americans in Galveston, Texas, were told they were free:

“The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer.” (1865)

In 1980 Juneteenth became an official state holiday. It is celebrated with the usual festivities rodeos, barbeques, parades but the focus is education and self-improvement.

Now don’t think that Miss Juneteenth is about a “beauty pageant” it is NOT a beauty pageant. It is a “scholarship” pageant—and a real one. One that encourages high self-esteem; winners receive scholarships to further their education. Miss Juneteenths are held in various Texan cities each year.

In Channing Godfrey Peoples’ Miss Juneteenth, Kai is one very reluctant entrant. Kai (Alexis Chikaeze) is a pouty 16-year-old (say it ain’t so) whose mother Turquoise (Nicole Beharie) is pushing and pulling her into the pageant. It’s expensive and clearly beyond their finances. Turquoise works several jobs, scrimps and saves so that Kai can participate. Why? Well, go to the movie and see the slow unfolding of the Jones family history.

Miss Juneteenth is as mellow as molasses – it slides through the small town from juke joint to funeral parlour. Watch for all too fleeting glimpses of African-American life: black cowboys (one in four cowboys was black according to Smithsonian research), black rodeos (there’s a Texas black rodeo circuit), and black country and western music (see Ken Burns’ Country Music).

There’s much to love about the movie – it’s not overblown, the relationships seem real, and the music is great. Yep there are stereotypes – but I’ll leave that to the viewer to reject or accept.

Oh, the title – it’s become my earworm for today.

In cinemas now. Rated M. Running Time 103 minutes

Readers also enjoyed our review on Fatima