As many organizations and people around the county celebrate the 155th anniversary of the remaining Black slaves’ freedom, Queen Sugar writer and director Channing Godfrey Peoples delivers a new drama film, Miss Juneteenth.
Starring Little Fires Everywhere star Nicole Beharie (as Turquoise) and Insecure fan-favorite Kendrick Sampson (as Ronnie), the feature film follows Turquoise, a former beauty queen and hard-working single mother named who strives to encourage her teenage daughter Kai (Alexis Chikaeze) to take part in the annual Miss Juneteenth pageant while navigating love and loss.
Ahead of the film’s debut, VIBE correspondent and host Jazzie Belle sat down with Peoples and Sampson—who are also Texas natives—to discuss how the film beautifully paints the characters’ love story, what the celebration of Juneteenth truly means to them and the Black community, and what they hope viewers take away from the insightful and relatable film, especially in today’s fight against institutionalized racism.
“My hope is that this story will be amplified because it’s another Black story about the humanity of Black folks,” said Peoples. “And then it will open doors for more human stories about Black folks to be told.”
“I love our culture. I love the way we sound. I love the inflections that we have. I love our accents and how they’re different than white folks,” added Sampson. “We have to think really about what that [Juneteenth] pageant means and what we are exemplifying within that pageant. And what Juneteenth actually means, and if those are cohesive. What are we fighting for in liberation?”
Watch the full interview between Jazzie, Kendrick, and Channing above. Also, see excerpts from their conversation below. Vertical Entertainment’s Miss Juneteenth is now streamable on-demand i.e. Apple TV, Vudu, Amazon Prime, FandangoNow.
On what Juneteenth means to them
Kendrick Sampson: Juneteenth is a reminder that when we fight, we win. We have to take on abolition as a framework for activism that if one person is in bondage, we all are in bondage. It wasn’t ever about the person who signed the Emancipation Proclamation. No oppressor ever just benevolently gave us something because they woke up one day and said, “All right. We’re going to give y’all back y’all freedom.” It was hard fought for like hardcore radical people that were willing to put their bodies on the line and not just allies, but accomplices.
I grew up knowing July 4th, Independence Day, was bullsh*t because our people weren’t independent. What independence were we celebrating? And so Juneteenth is my favorite and it’s got a lot more flavor and culture.
Channing Godfrey Peoples: It [Juneteenth] was a fabric of growing up. Is was a fabric of my childhood…For me, commemorating Juneteenth was always about acknowledging our ancestors who Kendrick’s talked about who were slaves in Texas getting their freedom late. And Kendrick talked about the themes in the film. And I think I really wanted to portray thematically that Turquoise is on this journey finding her own sense of freedom, by coming to terms with her own past later in life.
On the inspiration behind playing Ronnie
Sampson: I understood who Ronnie was and I thought it would be an honor to portray a Black man from Texas that was different than Nathan because Nathan is from Houston on Insecure. And, that was an honor, especially dealing with mental health issues and such, which I’m hugely passionate about. But just all of us have trauma. I know Ronnie, I got brothers that are Ronnie. And I wanted to honor Ronnie. I wanted to have the chance to show that nuance. I wanted to show that the humanity in it is that, again, you can’t be a Black man person, trans, woman, sister, whatever, cannot be Black in America without experiencing a level of trauma and having generational trauma inform how you operate.
On the portrayal of Black love on-screen
Peoples: I think one of the things that I love about Turquoise and Ronnie’s relationship is the thing that they have in common. You can feel their history, you can also feel their baggage, but what they have in common is their love for their daughter. And you’re seeing them act that out as parents in different ways. Like another question I was always asking was how did these characters parent, and that was driving the decisions for the film. How does Turquoise parent? How does Ronnie parent? And at different moments…you’re seeing the yin and yang of that, the positive and negative of both. Both are just trying to love this child.