Miss Juneteenth, a project from debut filmmaker Channing Godfrey Peoples and starring Nicole Behari and Kendrick Sampson, fittingly premieres on Juneteenth.
Set in Texas, the movie follows the life of Turquoise Jones (Behari), her estranged husband Ronnie (Sampson), and their teenage daughter Kai. They are salt of the earth type of people who work hard and get by. Back in high school, Turquoise was crowned Miss Juneteenth and she desperately wants her daughter to win the pageant too. Kai has other plans. The film is a moving examination of motherhood, love, and the true definition of freedom.
BET spoke with Miss Juneteenth’s star Nicole Beharie (Sleepy Hollow, Black Mirror) about her relationship with the holiday, how she connects with the characters, and how she chooses roles.
BET: Did you know about Juneteenth when you were growing up?
Nicole Beharie: I don't think I really heard about Juneteenth until I was in college in New York, doing research for a play. And I was like, Oh, what is this. So, I lived in South Carolina and I lived in Georgia growing up, you know, amongst other places but it wasn't really something that was heavily celebrated. I was shooting the film during Juneteenth, but I haven't had the opportunity to actually celebrate it really like ever. So this year, June 19, 2020, I'll be doing that.
BET: Since this is your first Juneteenth, how are you going to celebrate?
Beharie: I have a collective of women that we've been sort of checking in with since the death of George Floyd just to sort of mourn and connect. We’re going to do something via Zoom together, but also I think I'm going to do a nice social distance, outdoor engagement with some family members.
BET: For Turquoise Jones, family is also very important. Taking care of her daughter is clearly her priority. Do you identify with Turquoise on some level?
Beharie: Oh, totally! I was raised by a single mother who did everything that she could within her power to provide for us a better life than what was provided for her. And then, I also think this film is also largely about reimagining your life. When you think that there's only one way of doing something, or that only one way works, you have to realize that we're in a new time. I really related to holding on to the past, believing the labels and the limitations that have been placed on me. That's an embarrassing thing to say and I would like to present that I'm completely empowered and conscious and all that all the time, but sometimes those things get in my head and I and I be cynical or feel stuck.
BET: When you decided to pursue an acting career, did you have friends or family members who weren’t quite supportive?
Beharie: I was supposed to be doing what you're doing. I wanted to go to school for journalism and international relations. But I went to the South Carolina Governor's School for the Arts & Humanities, got a really good education and ended up falling in love with theater. But yeah, even after I got into Julliard and graduated, my family was still really nervous. They thought I was going to be a pauper. My mom is Jamaican and yhey are a very practical, multitasking people. She didn't immigrate here and work so hard for me to then decide to be an artist. But thankfully, I’ve been really blessed. You actually made me realize something. I also relate to Kai's character. I hadn't really realized that I understand that perspective too.
BET: Do you feel like there are multiple ways to connect to this film?
Beharie: This is a love letter that Channing Godfrey Peoples has created. You get a sense of the complexity of these people. It is very specific to Texas and very specific to that community, but it's also universal. It's about a group of people that I feel like everyone can relate to because of that desire for something better or just to be connected and be loved.
BET: You’ve played complex characters on a diverse roster of projects. You have Sleepy Hollow, Black Mirror, Little Fires Everywhere, etc. What’s your process for selecting roles?
Beharie: I am interested in playing a lot of different characters and working with different types of people. Also, a major draw for me is working with different types of directors people, from different countries and living in those perspectives can also affect your life. Stepping into the shoes of different people playing, Rachel Robinson versus playing Turquoise Jones is drastically different.
Miss Juneteenth starring Nicole Beharie, Kendrick Sampson, and Alexis Chikaeze premieres on June 19th (Juneteenth) Digital and On Demand and will be available on all the major digital and VOD providers.