‘Miss Juneteenth’: Film Review

Variety | 1/24/2020 | Dennis Harvey
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“Miss Juneteenth” richly captures the slow pace of ebbing small-town Texas life, even if you might wish there were a bit more narrative momentum to pick up the slack in writer-director Channing Godfrey People’s first feature. She’s got a very relatable heroine in Nicole Beharie’s Turquoise, an erstwhile local beauty queen whose crown proved the peak rather than the kickoff to her dream of a better life — high hopes now transferred to a daughter reluctant to inherit that burden.

This portrait of a whole community dogged by debt and diminishing prospect has a basic authenticity that will ring true for many viewers unaccustomed to seeing themselves onscreen. That is, people whose aspirations toward the middle-class American Dream grow ever more remote as the middle class itself struggles to maintain its position. (As one bleakly realistic character here opines, “Ain’t no American Dream for black folks,” anyway.) Rewarding if somewhat predictable in its overall storytelling arc, the indie drama might look more attractive to buyers if another editorial pass tightened its sometimes too-leisurely tempo a bit.

Juneteenth - Communities - Start - Raison - D'être

Juneteenth is celebrated in many African American communities, but got its start and raison d’être in the Lone Star state, where it marked the abolition of slavery in 1865 — a tardy two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation. (Being in the farthest-flung Confederate territory, Texas slave owners eluded compliance longer than their more eastern neighbors.) Beharie’s heroine had her moment of glory in 2004 as the local pageant winner, a title she worked hard for, as she does everything.

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Yet she’s still stuck in a hometown that...
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