I first saw Nicole Beharie in the 2011 film Shame. There was and still is an electricity that she brings to every performance. Nicole gained larger fame as Abbie Mills in the Fox drama Sleepy Hollow. This past year, Nicole gained critical notoriety across the board with her illuminating performance in the film Miss Juneteenth.
Nicole gives a breathtaking performance in this independent film about a small town in Texas celebrating a scholarship pageant for young black women. More and more folks are learning about Juneteenth, whether it be in connection to a sitcom doing an episode about the topic (black-ish) or in connection with Black Lives Matter protests. Juneteenth started in Galveston, Texas and commemorates the day African American slaves were told they were free after the end of the Civil War. It’s not something 99 percent of white history classes teach you, and the film carries this journey of hope for education and achievement for young African American women.
Nicole plays Turquoise, a former Miss Juneteenth who hopes to bring this message to her daughter and help her strive to be able to do things Turquoise, herself, was not able to do. Nicole brings heart, empathy, and strength to each moment in her performance. Nicole’s arc is incredibly poignant, and her performance is one the best of the year. Please check out the conversation we had below:
***A note there are some plot spoilers in response-I highly encourage you to watch Miss Juneteenth, it is available on VOD or you can watch it on Kanopy or BET+ through your cable provider.***
Awards Daily: First and foremost congratulations on the success of this film. What does this film’s success mean to you?
Nicole Beharie: I wanted to do this project. It really spoke to me from just reading the script. We shot super grass roots on a small budget, working with locals. It meant a lot to support a passionate black female director. We shot it in 2019, and a year later, the world flipped on its head with COVID and the social unrest. The show commemorates the day the African Americans we told they were set free. It should be a big part of our community and National Celebration. This year was the first time this holiday and date was seeping into the mainstream.
More people were talking about this, and it has been exciting to see more conversations about this holiday, and it’s importance to the black community . I guess we were in alignment with what should have been happening. It means a lot that Channing and Alexis (daughter) and Kendrick Sampson are all passionate artists who worked in spirit of service to our community.
AD: Your performance as Turquoise is masterful. How did you work with director Channing Godfrey to formulate her character?
NB: I really loved the people that were on the page. Realizing it was such a specific community. I decided to go early, take in the community. Channing and the producers introduced me to people in the community. I created a patch work of women and men in the community. The trust with Daniel Patterson (DP) in the way things were shot was also incredibly important, and helped in forming Turquoise and the community around her.
As a woman you are often the accessory, having the ability to have the breath and space to think honestly on camera was a gift. I can help move the story along and not just to be a device. Through this role I was able to bring a strong character to life along with celebrating a community in more ways than one.
AD: We see your character go on a journey of letting go and finding her way. Turquoise feels like she is looking for this throughout the film. How did you evolve the performance?
NB: I feel like Turquoise was going through a whirlwind of values. Where do you stand in your community. Who is deciding who you are in your community. Maybe one of the reasons this film and this idea is resonating is because this is something we are all navigating with everything in COVID. There can be a lot happening in the slice of life in town. She is spinning a lot of plates, and there are some folks who think she is questionable. When I saw this was more about scholastics, and about the history in the community I gave into that.
The personal touch is so crucial. I am not getting to interact with as many people. It’s fun to watch films these days that are taking us to a new world and helping us explore. This is such a specific community and a specific holiday and the way it works in her community, it all works. I get the mom, I get wanting more for my kid. It touches me that people.
AD: This is a cross generational story about black motherhood. We get to meet Turquoise’s mother and watch her as a parent. What influenced your performance? How did you form this relationship?
NB: I love the generational story being told, and I love seeing how they explore and express themselves differently. Turquoise’s mother wanted to create a social standing through the church, and Turquoise wanted to create social standing for her daughter through pageants and Kai rebels. In way we see how we
What you are exposed vs. thinking outside the box. It had not occurred to Turquoise to be a business owner. She finally said “I could do this, when I had been doing this all along.”
The happily ever after is her owning a business. The films usually end with Bacon the guy sweeping her off her feet on a horse, which he attempts to literally do, but that was not the exact ending for my character. The film touches this in a light subtle way. Sometimes our major moments are so slow, and we have let them wash over you. I love that the film and my character was able to explore these moments.
AD: Most folks are not/were not familiar with Juneteenth. How do you hope this film adds to the conversation about racial equity?
NB: I think having the phrase and term, and talking about it more. I hope this becomes a National Holiday. This nation built its wealth on slavery and it important to acknowledge what’s happened, how far we have come, and where we have come from. This is a big moment for us to learn. I want us to think about how we get here. What part do we play in our future and we look back and learn.