How Vertical Entertainment is selling a drama with a timely title.
I’m not the only one, at least based on my social media feeds, who wasn’t taught the history of Juneteenth in school. This day – today – marks the anniversary of slaves in Texas being told in 1965 they were free as the result of the Emancipation Proclamation, signed over two years prior. While it has been virtually ignored in white culture for 155 years, its prominence resulting from the recent protests against police brutality have raised the day’s profile to the point where many organizations have declared it a paid company holiday and calls for it to be a federal holiday have increased substantially.
Today marks the release of the new movie Miss Juneteenth. Written and directed by Channing Godfrey Peoples, the film stars Nicole Beharie as Turquoise Jones, a former winner of the Miss Juneteenth beauty pageant. Now a single mom to her daughter Kia (Alexis Chikaeze), Turquoise has worked to build a good life for both of them and now wants to groom Kia to win the same pageant, one that is dedicated to commemorating the holiday. Those plans aren’t exactly what Kia has in mind, though, and the two struggle with each other’s ambitions.
The film, currently at 98 percent “Fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes, marks Peoples’ feature directorial debut and has received a limited but timely campaign to sell the drama as it seeks to seize the moment.
Turquoise is decked out in a gown, complete with tiara, on the poster, released in May. She’s sitting on a small porch and looks more than a bit melancholy or even sad, conveying a sense of longing for the glory days of yesteryear or reflecting on some mistakes that have been made. That’s really the whole point and so works well on that front. The movie’s festival appearances are touted as well.
Also released in May, the one trailer (12.6k views on YouTube) opens with a look back at Turquoise’s heyday as she celebrates her winning the Miss Juneteenth pageant with a ride in a local parade. Cut to the present and she’s working hard to make ends meet for her and Kia, who is now on the pageant circuit. It’s clear Turquoise see’s Kia as the path to the future and a way out of the hard life they’re living, but Kia’s heart isn’t in it, fostering dreams of dancing and doing her own thing. Conflict between the two has both of them wishing they could just make the other understand where they’re coming from.
Online and Social
There doesn’t seem to be much of a web presence for the movie, though Vertical did have a page that rounded up some of the important links, including details on VOD and drive-in theater release availability. There were also social profiles for the film.
Advertising and Promotions
The film made a well-regarded appearance at Sundance 2020 and was scheduled to appear at SXSW before that festival was cancelled. Vertical Entertainment acquired distribution rights in April.
Media and Press
In a recent interview, Peoples spoke about the inspiration behind the story while Beharie talked about some of the problems she’s faced as a black actress, including the unequal treatment she received while starring on “Sleepy Hollow” years ago. That experience, she says, led to her deciding to be more selective in the projects she chose and the people she worked with.
The topic of black history, beauty standards and more came up in an interview with Chikaeze, who also spoke about what she knows of the holiday and more. She also talked about the experience she had getting teargassed by police while participating in one of the recent peaceful protest marches.
Costar Kendrick Sampson also spoke about how the movie speaks to our current situation
The campaign itself is good enough, showing the drama that comes from the friction between a parent who wants to relive her glory days vicariously through her daughter and the daughter who wants to follow her own path. A strong message is sent through the trailer in particular, which shows complex characters struggling to find their place in the world.
It also serves as yet another opportunity for those of us who haven’t been steeped in the history of Juneteenth to learn more about an important event and the history surrounding it. Vertical’s social profiles for the film worked as the primary points offering that context, serving up small but important history lessons that are useful in order to fully understand the movie’s story as well as society in general.