Synopsis: Built like a bird, Turquoise Jones is a single mom who holds down a household, a rebellious teenager, and pretty much everything that goes down at Wayman’s BBQ & Lounge. Turquoise is also a bona fide beauty queen—she was once crowned Miss Juneteenth, a title commemorating the day slavery was abolished in Texas. Life didn’t turn out as beautifully as the title promised, but Turquoise, determined to right her wrongs, is cultivating her daughter, Kai, to become Miss Juneteenth, even if Kai wants something else.
Miss Juneteenth is a compelling film that debuts on VOD just in time for Juneteenth, the most celebrated commemoration marking the end of slavery. The film stars Nicole Beharie (42, Sleepy Hollow), Kendrick Sampson (Insecure), and newcomer Alexis Chikaeze. Alexis is not only an up-and-coming actress, she is also an activist against racial injustice. The soon to be HBCU student took time from her busy schedule to talk to Taji Mag about her new film Miss Juneteenth.
Dapper Dr. Feel (DDF): What does Juneteenth mean to you and why is it important?
Alexis Chikaeze (AC): It is about the end of slavery, it’s about our freedom to speak about what is right. Back in the day, we weren’t able to, but now we can speak up for change.
FYI: Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. Also known as Emancipation Day and Black Independence Day. On June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, TX, and announced the end of the Civil War and the end of slavery. The Emancipation Proclamation was dated January 1, 1863, however, many slave owners continued to hold their slaves captive after the announcement. In turn, Juneteenth became a symbolic date representing African American freedom.
DDF: Was this your first film?
AC: This is my first big role ever and my first audition ever. It’s surreal, a week after I signed with my agent, I got the audition.
DDF: How much of the Kai character was relatable to you?
AC: Honestly, we are just about the same. It made embodying the character a little easier. Kai is outgoing, she’s headstrong, she is willing to do just about anything to make sure that she can do what she loves. Kai loves her mother and I feel she was set on showing her mother that dancing was her passion. She is really trying to convince her mother just as I had to convince my parents that I wanted to pursue acting. My parents are Nigerian immigrants and the preference that was given career-wise was Doctor or Engineer. Venturing out into other professions is not really something to consider. When I first started, they were skeptical. They were questioning if acting would secure my future. It’s similar to how Kai’s mother wants the best for her.
“Hold those things that tell your history and protect them. During slavery, who was able to read or write or keep anything? The ability to have somebody to tell your story to is so important. It says: ‘I was here. I may be sold tomorrow. But you know I was here.” – Maya Angelou
DDF: What was it like working with Nicole Beharie and Channing Godfrey Peoples?
AC: Both of them are very humble individuals. It was a wonderful experience working with Nicole, she’s kind-hearted and high spirited. She was so happy to help me and, even before shooting, we would do some exercises to make sure we were both ready mentally and physically. Anytime I felt like I needed help or had to ask Nicole a question, she was more than happy to assist me in any way she could. As for Channing, she allowed me to put into the character what I thought would fit the character and use my own perspective. During the times I was frustrated and hard on myself she reassured me and gave me words of encouragement.
DDF: What do you think people will take away from the film?
AC: I really hope that people take the time to learn about Black History, the Black community, who we are as Black people, and how rich our culture is. I think more people, myself included, are taking time to learn more about Black history because we don’t learn enough in this educational system.
Miss Juneteenth is a must-watch that I found to be similar to Mommy Dearest but better and more relatable. So much so, that after the film I had to call my mother to tell her “I love you and thank you for your sacrifices.” With Nicole Beharie’s ability to pull the audience in through her character’s obstacles and Alexis’ charm, this is a film many should enjoy on Juneteenth.
Directed and written by Channing Godfrey Peoples
Starring Nicole Beharie, Kendrick Sampson, and Alexis Chikaeze