In her first feature film Miss Juneteenth, Channing Godfrey has amassed a huge success for the film itself along with those involved in the process. If you look at the bottom of this article, there is a laundry list of nominations and wins for the film. Its biggest accomplishment is honestly an incredible film about Black women in Texas, their generational love, and a shared experience of place.
Throughout our conversation, Godfrey and I talked heavily about her own lived experience in Texas and the importance of telling the story of this community. She was inspired by the likes of Demme, Linklater, and Almodovar, but she brings her own gravitas to this story that helps show off her own vision to become one of the most impactful films of 2020.
Juneteenth has been a part of this community for a long time, and the rest of the country is playing catch up. Channing creates a love letter to this holiday and is able to allow viewers to sink into an experience where you can enter their community and become immersed in the conversation. Please check out the conversation below.
Awards Daily: Congratulations on the nominations and wins the film has received. How does it feel?
Channing Godfrey: It’s been really incredible, the recognition is never expected but it’s always appreciated. I was inspired by this community I grew up in. I was inspired by the women in my life, my mother, and the other women in my life. I watched my own mother strive to achieve her dreams, and then I had my own journey as a mother which informed the film too.
Getting the Best Directorial Debut film from the NBR and making the top independent films too. I made this from my heart, and for the film to be recognized, celebrated, and seen more and more means a lot to me.
AD: How did you shape the generational story about motherhood for this film and create such an authentic sense of space for the film?
CG: I based the film on the story of my life and the historical side of Fort Worth Texas and its Black working class community. I felt seen and supported growing up in this town. One of the things the people in this town had was that they had grit and determination. I approached this with a strong sense of authenticity.
Juneteenth was part of the fabric of my life. I celebrated every year. The parades, the blues music, and the BBQ, and I got to go to the pageant as a kid. I got to see all these young beautiful Black women looked like me. It was my own version of Miss America, and it stayed with me on my journey.
Juneteenth resonates differently as an adult. I was approaching this holiday from all these different angles, and shaping each woman’s view with the different perceptions of these different women at different stages in their life.
AD: Juneteenth has been celebrated within the Black community for a long time. How does it feel to see this holiday be honored with the recognition it deserves?
CG: I think it’s important for Juneteenth to be acknowledged. It’s not only Black history. It’s American history. I grew up with people acknowledging it all around. There were numerous Black folks who lost their lives this year. All of these were happening, and it was important for me to put these things out in the world. As a director you are trying to put this film out in the world and as a Black person you are seeing these lived experiences.
AD: We talked about character and space earlier. Tell me about the process of making the film?
CG: I really enjoyed being at home and making this film. The community came together to bring this to life. I was a new mom and my infant daughter was on set. I was experiencing many of these things Turquoise was experiencing in real life. This film is about a mother wanting the best of her daughter.
The new experience with my daughter and becoming a mom shifted the way I viewed things as I was working on the project. There were times where I kept jumping in on set in order to get the moment correct or to create the lived experience of these women. I think my perspective of this story evolved with the birth of my daughter, and my goal with jumping in was to bring about a story of love and joy. We have to find joy and that is what I discovered with my own daughter, and that is what I wanted to put on the screen.
AD: Any film, television, or theatre references that guided this for your process?
CG: I did not have some ‘aha moment’ as a kid to say I wanted to be a filmmaker. My mom would take us to the theatre. I also remember seeing plays/shows like Purlie and For Colored Girls, and it made me want to be involved in storytelling. There was no infrastructure for young Black women at the time. I later dipped my toe in the water as an actor. I was not seeing the roles in my head on the screen. I realized I would need to create art and be a force on the writing front like Toni Morrison or Alice Walker. I would need to shape these characters if I wanted to see them in front of me.
I went to USC and studied film. I ended up fascinated by everything behind the scenes. I ended up fascinated with the camera, and this is how I fell in love with this part of the process. I loved Charles Burnett’s work, and I fell in love with Killer of Sheep and I would screen shot images before. I love Richard Linklater, Pedro Almodovar, and Jonathan Demme. Rachel Getting Married written by Jenny Lumet was my absolute favorite. The stories I get invested in, they make things feel lived in. They let you live with the characters, and that helps you connect to the material in a deeper way.
AD: I love that you cite Linklater as an influence. It made me think about Boyhood, which was set in Austin, and that sense of place was something I connected to with this film also.
CG: I was in the Austin Film Society, and Linklater gave me notes on Miss Juneteenth early on. It’s a huge honor to be in the same room as Linklater and Charles Burnett. Linklater and I had a conversation recently at Sundance. He said something that was so interesting to me. He said something to the effect of we are both inspired by the world and atmosphere first, and then you form character. I am inspired by people I grew up with and grew up around. My dialogue is very specific on the page, and I write the way people talk in my world, and I wanted that to exist in my film, and I proud of this work
AD: What is next? I am excited to see more from you!
CG: I have a first look deal with UCP, and they have been wonderful partners. I have talked about what work I want to do in the television space. They have been behind me in that. There is a television adaptation of Miss Juneteenth in the works.
I am also working on my next original film, and no one has access to that, not even my family. I am excited to create another unique world with a strong sense of character. I have a naturalistic sense, I have an authentic approach to dialogue, and I want to stay as close to the words in the script, so much of the way people talked was very important.
List of nominations and wins for Miss Juneteenth:
National Board of Review
Best Directorial Debut – Channing Godfrey Peoples (WON)
Top 10 Independent Film of the Year
Independent Spirit Awards
Best First Feature – Channing Godfrey Peoples (NOMINATED)
Best First Screenplay – Channing Godfrey Peoples (NOMINATED)
Best Actress – Nicole Beharie (NOMINATED)
Best Supporting Actress – Alexis Chikaeze (NOMINATED)
Breakthrough Director Award – Channing Godfrey Peoples (NOMINATED)