Miss Juneteenth: Channing Godfrey Peoples’ Feature Debut at 2020 Sundance Film Fest

Channing Godfrey Peoples makes a striking debut with Miss Juneteenth, a tale dealing with a struggling single mom named Turquoise.

The film world premiered at the U.S. Dramatic Competition of the 2020 Sundance Film Fest.

“Turquoise is me,” the director explained. “She’s my family, she’s the people I grew up with in my neighborhood. … Turquoises are women who have heart, who are working every day and living for the weekend, and love their kids and would do anything for them.”

Turquoise works toward a better life for her daughter Kai, channeling her hopes into the Miss Juneteenth pageant, a scholarship competition named for the day slavery was finally abolished in Texas, more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued.

Despite being a former Miss Juneteenth herself, she is now working at a hole-in-the-wall bar, along with taking any other side gigs she can get. Turquoise banks everything on the chance for a full-ride scholarship for her daughter—while also clinging to the vague hope that one day she herself will be able to carve out an honorable life.

Peoples drew inspiration from the pageants she watched each year as a young girl growing up in Texas, where Juneteenth is a huge celebration.

“All I could remember is seeing those beautiful African American women glide across the stage. It’s just something that has never left me.  They were who I aspired to be.  And I always wondered, when they stepped across that stage, what happened to those women?”

Actress Nicole Beharie said she prepared for the role by drawing parallels between the delayed emancipation of slaves in Texas and Turquoise’s long-overdue claim to independence for herself.

Peoples noted: “I had written this really tough-love character, and then I had a child, and I found something different after becoming a mother. There was this joy I can’t describe. I mean, you see the other side of it too.”

She referred to her young daughter who was making noise in the theater and had to be taken out by her grandmother. But it seemed appropriate that the little girl made an appearance at the premiere for a film dedicated to her by her mother.