“Miss Juneteenth” is not a typical pageant movie. On one hand, it’s a coming-of-age story, and on the other, it’s a mother-daughter tale that sees single mom Turquoise Jones cultivating her teenage daughter, Kai, into the former beauty queen that she once was. In the end though, “Miss Juneteenth” shines light on black womanhood, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.
In the midst of global protests fighting against racial injustice, Channing Godfrey Peoples’ debut feature, “Miss Juneteenth,” celebrates black beauty and the black experience directly from the black female gaze and it’s set on the backdrop of the Juneteenth holiday in Fort Worth, Texas.
Turquoise, played by Nicole Beharie, was once crowned Miss Juneteenth, a title commemorating the day slaves in Texas were freed in 1865. The pageant is an annual competition that awards the winner a scholarship to a historically black college, and though Turquoise won, she wasn’t able to take advantage of her opportunity. Now, she is working overtime to make ends meet in hopes that rebellious Kai (Alexis Chikaeze) will.
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The tension between mother and daughter comes out in the costumes.
“What we really wanted Kai to feel like was that she was struggling to find herself and portray that in her clothes and her wardrobe,” costume designer Rachel Dainer-Best told FN. “Her mom is very strict with her and we wanted it to come through in the way that she dressed.”
Outside the watchful eye of her mother, Kai can be seen in short shorts, looking older and trendy, wearing Nike sneakers and dressing in looks from Forever 21. “But all the moments when her mom is taking her to pageant events, she’d always dress pretty conservatively and looks young in those clothes,” added the costumer.
In one look, Kai takes the laces of her Converse sneakers and wraps them around her ankles, which was a personal touch from actor Chikaeze, that once again showed her teenage defiance.
Dainer-Best explained, “The hands of her mother were behind a lot of those clothing choices so something even small, like the way she tied her laces, felt personalized.”
Being set in Texas, Dainer-Best was certainly influenced by her surroundings. In the film, there are nods to the Lone Star State, seen in none other than cowboy boots and Western-wear.
In one scene, the Circle L Five Riding Club, which is the first African-American riding club in Texas to have a charter, gets a cameo at the Juneteenth parade. And in one the few close-up shoe moments on screen, we see Turquoise put on a pair of embroidered cowboy boots that made the cut due to a happy accident. Beharie had sprained her ankle on set causing for her to wear a brace, Dainer-Best explained, so they had to hide it in a boot.
Though the location played a role in influencing wardrobe choices, remaining authentic to Turquoise’s struggles as a single mother, working multiple jobs, was key.
“Channing and I really wanted Turquoise to feel like she wasn’t dressing in a way that was intentional or trying to be relevant. She was dressing in a practical way,” said Dainer-Best, noting she sourced from Goodwill, the Salvation Army and Marshalls. “What was really important to me when approaching designing the costumes for this movie was portraying these characters in a way that felt true to the actors and the audience,” she added.
In the case for the Miss Juneteenth pageant, Dainer-Best worked with a pageant consultant making the looks, from what participants would wear to rehearsals to the stage, as real as it could get. Some actors even wore their own pageant dresses for the movie. As For Kai’s dress, which happened to be the same dress her mother wore years prior, Dainer-Best had it made by a woman who works with pageant contestants today and used to be a pageant contestant herself.
“I think it’s incredibly important that this movie was made and is hopefully having a large audience,” Dainer-Best added. “It’s super valuable for it to come out today, too, and to hopefully garner more visibility around Juneteenth.”
“Miss Juneteenth” is available on demand now.