Sad as I am to bring this year’s Feminist February to a close, I’m so pleased with the films we’ve experienced on the Collab. I truly hope to see continued changes in the (lack of) diversity behind the camera in filmmaking not only because movies directed by women of color have been some of my favorites, but also because greater inclusion & representation should be a goal in and of itself. We watched films by Black women directors this month, though rest assured: we will continue to highlight diverse directors and filmmakers throughout the Collab.
Channing Godfrey Peoples
A single mother and former winner of the Miss Juneteenth crown pushes her daughter to follow in her footsteps, like it or not.
Though hardly meeting the criteria for overly competitive stage mom, this year’s Miss Juneteenth pageant is certainly bringing out the worst of these tendencies in single mother Turquoise Jones. Crowned Miss Juneteenth as a teen, Turq is determined that her daughter Kai will follow in her footsteps. The competition secures the winner an opportunity for greatness, including a full scholarship to the HBCU (Historically Black College & University) of her choice…chances that Turq missed out on.
Carrying around a massive chip on her shoulder after being unable to attend a 4-year college when she became pregnant with Kai, Turq holds things together working multiple part-time jobs as the de facto manager of a bar and a beautician at a funeral home. Unable to move on from the past in more ways than one, Turq is in an on-again/off-again relationship with Kai’s father Ronnie, possessor of good looks but poor decision-making skills (whose character is a much nicer person in Ghosting: The Spirit of Christmas!).
Because she feels constantly judged for her failure to measure up as a former Miss Juneteenth, Turq cares a great deal about what other think. Unfortunately, her obsession with appearances and rehashing the past make it impossible to recognize the self-assured person her daughter has become…one who is much more interested in dance than a pageant competition.
As Turq works and attempts to get Ronnie to pay up his share for the expenses of the pageant, she balances the perspectives of her alcoholic mother, the funeral home director who wants to provide for her, and the proud but aging owner of the bar wearied by years of fighting as a Black business owner.
While bills pile up and Kai predictably shows no interest in jumping through the competition hoops, it feels the world is conspiring against Turq’s plans. Can Turq reframe the past in time to realize what it means for her daughter’s future?
4/5 Pink Panther Heads
The relationship between Turq and Kai is well written and the performances are strong, capturing the power and nuance of their mother/daughter bond. Though Turq comes across as fiercely determined to outside observers, Kai knows well the insecurity at her core. It’s actually really beautiful that Kai can understand her mother so clearly despite the amount of time it takes Turq to recognize her daughter’s own identity and dreams.
Set in the context of a Miss Juneteenth pageant, the story challenges some of the rather problematic ways this type of beauty contest presents barriers to young Black women even as it proclaims to lift them up. Internalized beauty standards that connect to whiteness (which Kai memorably breaks towards the end of the film) are challenged, as well as a very narrow definition of what it means to be considered great. With the setting around Juneteenth, we as an audience are reminded that survival despite the odds against Black Americans and those formerly enslaved is itself a remarkable accomplishment.
In addition to Turq and Kai, our story is about a Black community in Texas, the multiplicity of identities represented as part of it, and broader connections to Black identity and culture. The relationship between Turq and Wayman, the owner/manager of the bar, is understated but so important as she carves out a space for herself. It’s by building upon Wayman’s legacy that Turq is able to accomplish what she’s wanted for such a long time.
The story feels strongly connected to Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, also about a woman deciding for herself who she will be and on what terms. I love the ending so much, and it seems fitting for both Turq and Kai. Miss Juneteenth provides the perfect note to wrap up Feminist February 2022.