Q&A: ‘Miss Juneteenth’ actress discusses power of Black beauty pageant

Grace Barnes

June 19, or Juneteenth, marks the day in 1865 when enslaved people in Texas were notified of their freedom, two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation. “Miss Juneteenth,” written and directed by Channing Godfrey Peoples, is a fictional story based on a beauty pageant in Fort Worth that celebrates the Juneteenth holiday.  

“Miss Juneteenth” follows former beauty queen Turquoise (Nicole Beharie) as she prepares her daughter Kai (Alexis Chikaeze) to compete in the pageant. 

The Daily Texan spoke with supporting actress Alexis Chikaeze to discuss the pageant, the importance of celebrating Black beauty and the power of releasing this film on the 155th anniversary of Juneteenth. 

The Daily Texan: How much did you know about the Miss Juneteenth pageant before filming? 

Alexis Chikaeze: In truth, I actually didn’t know about (the pageant). I had learned about Juneteenth in school, but it was very surface level. It was like, the slaves are free, that’s it. Even here in Texas, we didn’t learn as much about Texas history as you would think. I did a couple pageants growing up, and the majority of the time, I was one of the few Black girls in the pageant. I remember wearing an afro to one of them — I just felt so out of place. If only I had known that there were pageants that empower little Black girls, because that’s important, that’s when they start to take pride in who they are and their uniqueness. If only had I known what a difference that would have made, but I was glad that I got to experience both sides. 

DT: This film is coming out at such a pivotal moment. Why, in your own words, is this film so important? Why should people watch this film?

AC: I definitely feel that it is important that people watch this film, and what I hope they get out of it is that — we’re coming up on the 155th anniversary of Juneteenth; that means 157 years since slavery was abolished and the Emancipation Proclamation was passed. But in the climate that we’re in today, Black people are still fighting for human rights. There should be no reason why we’re protesting during a pandemic, but that’s the reality of it. We’re speaking out about the same things that we’ve been speaking about for years, and nothing has changed. So I really hope people decide to learn more about the Black community and Black culture and who we are. I hope this movie highlights that Black creatives do exist, and that (the film) works as an avenue to give hope in a time where things have been very dark for us.

DT: The Miss Juneteenth pageant is meant to help its contestants become more confident in who they are as young Black women. Is there anything you would want to say to other Black girls out there who maybe aren’t very confident in themselves?

AC: To other Black girls, I feel it’s important to remind them that they are uniquely made, and there's nothing wrong with the way their hair is or how they look or their skin color, no matter how dark or light it is. Black beauty comes in all forms, and they should embrace that regardless of what anyone else tells them. You shouldn’t look down on yourself or your skin color because of what society might tell you. It’s not up to society to set the standard. We can set our own standards. It is important to continue to empower the little Black girls everywhere.