Actress/director Regina King has been a shining star in Hollywood for decades, and there is no end to her continued rise in sight.
King, who first captured the hearts of viewers portraying the teenager Brenda Jenkins in the ‘80s and ‘90s comedy sitcom 227, has emerged as a formidable powerhouse in Hollywood, expanding her talents to include directing for television and film.
The Oscar and Emmy-winning actress has won a string of awards for her acting, including winning an Academy Award and Golden Globe for her portrayal of mother Sharon Rivers in If Beale Street Could Talk.
Her latest project marked her directorial debut as a first-time film director in the critically acclaimed One Night in Miami, which is garnering kudos and is already generating an Oscar buzz.
One Night in Miami is a fictional account of an evening when four friends–Cassius Clay (Eli Goree); Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge); Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom, Jr.) and Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir) gather to spend a night at a Miami hotel to celebrate Clay’s win over Sonny Liston after capturing the title of world heavyweight champion of the world. The four icons discuss the burgeoning and volatile Civil Rights Movement as well as their individual hopes and dreams.
Written by Kemp Powers and based on the stage play of the same name, King said that the script for One Night in Miami was a love letter to the Black man’s experience.
During a recent BAFTA Masterclass, the four-time Emmy winner spoke candidly to TV presenter and documentary film maker Reggie Yates about One Night in Miami as well as her future plans as an emerging mogul in Hollywood.
“This is not a biography of all four of these men,” she pointed out. “This is a moment in time, a snapshot of what brotherhood looks like, of what vulnerability looks like for men and how their vulnerability is actually the thing that makes them strong.”
Her slew of awards include an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a limited role for her portrayal as Tulsa, Oklahoma detective Angela Akbar in The Watchmen who investigates a conspiracy that threatens her family.
During her acceptance speech, King displayed her social activism by proudly wearing a black T-shirt depicting Breonna Taylor — who was fatally gunned down by plainclothes police officers in a botched” no-knock” raid in her Louisville, Ketucky, apartment on 13 March 2020.
View this post on Instagram
Beale Street was directed by Barry Jenkins, who skilfully brought to light author James Baldwin’s iconic classic. Jenkins, who formerly directed the Oscar-winning Moonlight, became one of King’s mentors.
“I would say one of the big things that I was able to take away from Beale Street is that Barry’s attention to detail in the nuanced subtle moments, especially taking the time in those moments, and just being there for the experience, and then seeing the final product.
Another mentor for King was late director, and cultural icon, John Singleton
“It really helped me to understand how much those moments make the entire project sync… taking that away from that experience, going into One Night in Miami so soon after having that experience with Barry and already being a fan of his work. I remember thinking, this is why Moonlight was just mind-blowing and why I felt like I was no longer in a movie theatre, I was there, it’s because of the subtleties. I was able to infuse moments like that into One Night in Miami. I definitely without a doubt, if I had not had that experience with Barry, I know I would not have been sensitive to the idea that moments like this are absolutely necessary to a story.”
Another mentor for King was late director, and cultural icon, John Singleton, who early on in her career inspired King to think seriously about exploring the directing process as she watched him interact with various people on movie sets.
“I (enjoyed my) experiences with John, particularly in between Boys ‘n the Hood and Poetic Justice. Poetic Justice, once I’d gotten the part, I reached out to John and I had just so many questions and I think my excitement and the depth of my questions made him open up or inspired him to open up his entire preparation process for me.”
King went on to pursue her dream of directing.
“It’s not an easy feat to get to the space of actors and people regarding your directing hyphenate as something that’s not a thing that you’re doing out of vanity,” she pointed out. “It’s something that you’re doing because you truly have realised within yourself that there is a part of the storytelling process that you want to be involved in on a much deeper level. You want to have more control of the aesthetic and the tone and the story that you’re telling and you’re able to do that as a director. I just think as actors, once we made that discovery on a conscious level, we were ready to actively pursue it.”
“… You want to have more control of the aesthetic and the tone and the story that you’re telling…”
King said One Night in Miami brings to light a side of the icons that were never revealed. She pointed to the movie’s portrayal of Cassius Clay, who would shortly change his name to Muhammad Ali and publicly stir international controversy when he announced that he had joined the Nation of Islam.
“It’s a snapshot of the young Cassius that we never get the opportunity to see,” she reflected. “There are these subtle moments that humanise him that much more when Cassius, after the prayer, looks at himself in the mirror and it’s just that one slight little moment where he could be possibly doubting himself, but Malcolm asks him, “Are you ready?”
He goes, “I’m ready.” But we all have those moments,” King said.
King said that the film captures the serious as well as the jovial moments shared by the four friends who spend the night debating, arguing, and revealing their dreams as well as exposing their vulnerabilities.
“We look at all four of those men, almost as gods, as if they had no fears, as if they had no emotions, as if they had no doubts, as if they had no concerns,” King said. “The reality is that it is impossible to reach the level of success or to be as known as much as they were known in their respective fields and not experienced those things. They’re not cyborgs, they were men.”
During the casting process, King said she was well aware of the controversy currently brewing in Hollywood about whether British actors should be cast in parts specifically written for African American actors.
King said she reflected on this dilemma when she cast British actor Kingsley Ben-Adir in the role of American Civil Rights leader Malcolm X and Canadian actor Eli Goree as Cassius Clay.
“Again, Kingsley was the best actor for that role and Eli was the best actor for that role,” King insisted, adding that both actors thoroughly immersed themselves in the roles that they were eventually cast to play.
“Sure, neither one of them are American,” she pointed out, “But can they relate to the experience and the pain felt by a Black person for being disregarded just because of the colour of your skin? Absolutely, they can. Can they take it upon themselves to make sure they educate themselves on the ways it’s specific to America in the history of how Black Americans had built this country, it was built on the bodies of Black Americans? They can definitely educate themselves on that and they did. I wouldn’t change my choices for anyone.”
“For me I feel like the best actor for the role should play the part.”
During the casting process, King reached out to fellow director Ava DuVernay just before she was on the verge of casting Ben-Adir.
“I wanted to hear from her, how I should navigate the narrative because I know that’s going to come my way and she was like, “Is he the best person for the role?’
“I said, “Yes.” ‘She said, “There’s nothing to navigate.’”
Ben-Adir went on to win The Gotham award for Breakthrough Actor for his riveting portrayal of Malcolm X. The actor has received an overwhelming flood of praise for his performance.
“I am so excited that he won,” King said. “Well deserved, in my opinion. For me I feel like the best actor for the role should play the part.”
King said she is proud that One Night in Miami speaks to the humanity of Black men and Black people on a global scale.
“One of the things that I’ve truly understood or discovered throughout this process of One Night in Miami is that upon first receiving this and reading it, I thought, “Wow, Kemp, this is just a love letter to the Black man’s experience in America.”
“There are feelings and experiences that Black people in the UK, in Brazil feel that are the same as in America.”
“But then (I took) that step back and really took in the marginalised people across the world. There are feelings and experiences that Black people in the UK, in Brazil feel that are the same as in America. While the history of how a country came to be may be different, the marginalisation of a Black man is the same, colourism is the same in all of those places. A Black man getting on the elevator full of white people and him having to put on a talisman to make them more comfortable just so he can have a less stressful day is a very real thing whether that Black man is in America, in the UK, or anywhere else.”
Despite the serious subject matter depicted in One Night in Miami, King said, “I definitely am developing things that are lighter in subject matter, but yes, quite a few of the other projects that I’m developing are reflections of what is going on in our world,” said King. “So that is something I can’t help. But, you know, I am a fun person. I do laugh.”
The Regina King Masterclass was part of BAFTAs year-round learning and events programme.
This article was written by Shirley Hawkins