Happy Juneteenth! In addition to the anniversary of the end of slavery in the U.S., today is also the release date for a very important black independent film, ‘Miss Juneteenth’. We spoke with the film’s director Channing Godfrey Peoples about creating women driven films and showcasing the culture of Texas in this beautiful movie.
BOSSIP: This was your first feature film! Congratulations. How was it different than your experiences making shorts?
Channing Godfrey Peoples: Yes, first one. I’ve done several shorts. Doing a short is amazing because you get to focus on stories and get your stories out into the world. But a feature is definitely taking the training wheels off. Especially in the way we did it. We’re doing an independent film and we were shooting in Texas in a very hot time of the summer. Features can be tough, but I’m grateful to have powered through on this one.
BOSSIP: A lot of the film festivals were cancelled this year, but “Miss Juneteenth” still had the chance to premiere at Sundance. What was your Sundance experience like?
CGP: I’m really grateful that we got a chance to premiere at Sundance, we were supposed to play SXSW next and unfortunately it got cancelled, they were still incredible because they pushed through and we still won an award at SXSW.There was still a bit of sadness at not being able to play there, but we’re grateful because we got a premiere and there were a lot of films that didn’t get a chance to have their premieres. I was really excited about being at Sundance. My husband Neil was a producer on the film and he had been at Sundance Labs in 2017 and I had been at some of the Sundance intensives, the screenwriting intensive and directing intensive, so very much a part of the institute, so to be able to play there at the festival was really a dream come true and we ended up playing in the U.S. dramatic competition which blew my mind. I just wanted to be at Sundance so to be in competition was incredible and something I’ll never forget.
BOSSIP: You’re from Texas right, Fort Worth? Let’s talk about the role Texas plays in the film, a lot of people are just learning about Juneteenth but it’s really a huge part of the culture there, right?
CGP: Absolutely. It’s part of the fabric of life in Texas for black people.
BOSSIP: What does it mean to have the film released on Juneteenth?
CGP: It’s so interesting because I really made this film in the community that I grew up in, and the community itself, it has so much dignity and it has so much pride that I just wanted to be able to represent my community in this beautiful way in which I see it. A big part of that was my experiences at Juneteenth every year and Juneteenth for me as a native Black Texan was about looking forward to the parade and the blues music and the dancing and somebody was always going to get up and sing “Lift Ev’ry Voice And Sing.” It was a coming together that gave you the sense of community that I’m definitely missing this year.
Most special for me was what this movie is about, it’s about Miss Juneteenth and I loved going to the Miss Juneteenth pageant and I loved it because as a young black girl in Ft. Worth, I saw young women who looked like me, on stage and they were just so beautiful and so hopeful and so graceful and I remember it was formative for me and confidence building for me. I remember as an adult going, “What happened to them?” And many of them I knew, because Ft Worth is a big city but this particular part of the city where we shot, the South side feels more like a little country town because everybody knows each other. So I knew what happened to a lot of those women, but I thought, ‘What about the women that we don’t know what happened to them?” and so ‘Miss Juneteenth’ was born.
I knew I wanted to tell this story about a black woman with a dream deferred, but she still has her hopes and dreams for her child to have a better life. I don’t want to give too much away, but that leads to her having a dream that gets reshaped for herself.
BOSSIP: We love that this is a female driven film, at the core there’s this mother/daughter relationship then we have you, a female director and Turquoise wants something to call her own, which is a powerful message:
CGP: That part of it is interesting because there’s so much of myself in Turquoise, but then there’s my mother and my aunts; and there’s the women in the community I grew up in who were inspirations for me and were supports for me — such that when I expressed that I wanted a career in the arts that they were like ‘you can go do it, you’re going to get it done no matter what!” They had a sense of determination and dignity and it was important for me to create a story about a woman who wants something for herself. Maybe she can’t at the moment articulate what that is, but she knows she has a yearning for something that’s hers. My stories are typically about black women who are on journeys to take a step forward in their own lives and it’s important for me to be able to put more stories in the world about black women and with black women leads because I have that perspective as a black woman from Ft. Worth but also as a black woman living in America.
BOSSIP: The cast is so wonderful, not just the leads, Nicole Beharie, Kendrick Sampson and Alexis Chikaeze — but the supporting cast as well. We really enjoyed the Wayman character, Turquoise’s boss.
CGP: He’s so great — Marcus Mauldin, just amazing, he’s amazing. He’s from the area. As a director I have this very naturalistic approach, that’s something I had to talk through with my actors. They’re such incredible actors, but as a director you have to talk through with all of your actors about what your tone is, what your pace is, and everyone was able to jump in with what the tone was and what the pace was. But I love him [Marcus] because he was just walking and talking in that character.
They were breathing life into these roles. I was very grateful for the cast we have. There’s a couple of other people who I loved and had been wanting to work with; Akron Watson plays Bacon, the funeral home owner. He was just in “Hamlet” and “Chicago” and he was just so great. He’s from Dallas and he was so great in that role. Liz Mikel plays Debbie Ray and every time she comes on screen she just makes me smile, she plays the other waitress in the bar. We used local hair artists and everything because it was important to get that right completely.
BOSSIP: How has the COVID-19 pandemic changed your vision for the release of the film?
CGP: Speaking of COVID impact, it’s a film that’s so much about the community, so I was such a stickler about finding partners that would put the film in theatres in the community because I wanted community to have access to it. There was a plan to have a dual theatrical release and video on demand simultaneously, so obviously that’s changed things but people are being really supportive of the film, being video on demand and people have been asking where they can see it. Also theatres are adapting with virtual theatres, so there are so many theatres carrying it. BAM is carrying it, and the MOMA is carrying it, Laemmle is carrying it, those are places as an independent filmmaker you dream of carrying your film. I hope people will seek out the small independent theatres that have virtual theatres as well. I’m more nervous that the community is going to see it. I want to do them proud. It’s super important that I give black women’s stories a platform and that’s what I want to continue to be able to do.
Check out the trailer for ‘Miss Juneteenth’ below:
‘Miss Juneteenth’ is available now on video on demand and all digital platforms.