At just 18-years-old Alexis Chikaeze made her feature film debut in the new movie “Miss Juneteenth”, which debuted last month on the Juneteenth holiday. We spoke with her about hitting the big screen with some of her favorite actors and how she’s using her voice to create change for her generation. Check out our Q&A below!
Had you heard about Juneteenth before auditioning for the movie?
In truth, I didn’t know much about it. I’m not even going to lie. I am Nigerian. My parents are Nigerian, so in truth I really didn’t know much about Juneteenth. In school, it was very surface level, like ‘Oh yeah, the slaves were freed.’ And that was it. Last year I got the audition, I did make sure that I did research. Now we’re coming up on the 155th anniversary and 157 years that slavery was abolished, times just feel different because of everything going on around us. Things just feel different this year. I am happy that things are happening, but more issues still need to be solved and hopefully they will be.
You just turned 18 this year, are you excited about voting for the first time?
Yes ma’am. I did vote for the first time for the primaries in March and that felt very liberating because I got to use my voice. I made sure to study up because at the end of the day it starts in our communities, it starts in our counties and our cities and our states, not just on the level of the President. I felt really happy to at least know that I had a voice in that this time around.
What was it like working with Nicole Beharie?
It was a dream come true. I’ve watched her work and admired her work. From the first time I met her she was such a calm humble person. She didn’t come on set like she was some huge star. She was very down to earth. She was asking me questions about myself. Every time we were on set she was just so kind, she was open to helping in any way she possibly could. She said if you need any help with anything, let me know. If you want to go over lines, let me know. We would do exercises sometimes before starting our scenes to make sure we were both pumped up and ready. It was just absolutely amazing.
The film is so much about the mother and daughter relationship. Have your parents seen the film? What did they think?
Yes. My mom came with me to Sundance. Most of the time she was crying. I’m pretty sure she registered stuff, but she was just crying. I think it was very surreal for me, so it was probably very very surreal for her. I don’t think it fully hit her like ‘That’s my kid on the screen.’ She was just like, ‘Wow, y’all just made it look so real, like y’all were really mother and daughter.’
Being from Texas, how did the film reflect the culture?
First and foremost, I love Texas. Texas is my only home and I wouldn’t have it any other way. The people here, for the most part, we’re very warm individuals. We can see someone, especially in the black community, everywhere you go we do the little nod and we nod back. We might not even know each other but we love each other and acknowledge each other. And what comes with Texas is — our dances and just things we do. It’s just so rich in culture. I just love Texas culture.
You’re such a dancer in this movie. Is that true in real life as well? Are you on Tik Tok? Do you normally dance or did you have to learn choreography for the role?
So… I dance — in the house. I don’t really dance outside of the house. I’m not going to front. I do not dance outside the house. The movie was the first time that I allowed people to see anything dancing wise. Now, I mean, eventually the whole world will see. I’m still coming to terms with that.
I do love to dance, it’s something I did all while growing up. Not just hip hop either. Dancing in the Nigerian culture is one thing you’re just going to have to do. Outside wise, if I wasn’t dancing with my friends, dancing at Nigerian parties definitely was a thing. I love to dance, it feels exhilarating. It’s a time to make my body feel what I may not be able to speak about. It was fun. At first when I had to do dance moves it was like, ‘Okay everybody is about to be watching me like…’ but it’s not like they can take their eyes off me — they’re doing a job.
We have to ask you about working with Kendrick Sampson, who plays your dad in “Miss Juneteenth” and we also wondered if you guys talked at all about his work around social issues and injustice?
So “Insecure” is one of, if not my favorite show. That’s where I got my liking for him and his work. So the first time we met, I THOUGHT I played it off cool. I was like ‘Okay is this who I think it is?.’ Because at the time Season 3 had just ended for a couple months, so I was like, ‘Let’s see how I am going to ask him if he is who I think he is, I’m going to just ask a couple of questions.’ So I was like, ‘Are you on a TV show?’ He just shrugged his shoulders and gave me this little smile. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh he’s not answering my question. I think he is who I think he is.’ So I was like, “Are you on like “Insecure”?” and he did the same little shrug. So I said, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s him! It’s him!’
I thought I played it off really cool, but I found out at Sundance that I like jaw-dropped and was like, “Oh my gosh.” So for about 8 months I thought I played our first interaction off really cool, but I didn’t. So we joke and laugh about it to this day. Playing his daughter in the movie, he just has a sense about him that is like a Texan. Whenever we’re around each other he treats me like he would treat a little sister. Just protective. He’s very kind hearted, very humble. Funny. It was a great experience to work with him.
On the side of what he’s doing, [as an activist] he is one of the people who have inspired me to speak out about the things happening and take time to learn what I can do to help. Today the climate is very different and being able to say, I may not have the biggest platform, but if I decide to stay silent just because I don’t believe I have a big platform I become complicit to the issues at hand and at the end of the day those issues affect me as a black woman. I can’t just be silent. With him doing the work he’s doing and his organization BLD Power, it has made me want to do more for my community and stand up for what is right, because at the end of the day there are issues black people face – microaggressions, violence, murder, just because of the color of our skin. I am grateful to know him and to have seen him talk about those things in real life. He is definitely one person I can go to if I have questions.
You can check out Alexis in “Miss Juneteenth” now on demand.
Check out the trailer for “Miss Juneteenth” below: