A business breakfast – back when we could have it – Regina King met with Harley Copen from ICM Partners: "He asked me very specific questions about the types of stories I wanted to tell," King says now (via Zoom, of course).
King brought various ideas to Copen, including a love story with a historical background. For example, she began naming films in this genre that, unsurprisingly, were told from a white perspective. "I don't think you can see that many (historical love) stories are told from a black perspective in the cinema," describes King. "One Night in Miami is in many ways a love letter for me to the black man's experience. When Harley emailed me the script, I felt he had granted it (my request)."
Of course, King has directed television for eight years: Emmy Award-winning and Emmy-nominated shows such as Being Mary Jane, Scandal, Insecure, and This Is Us; the TV movie Let the Church Say Amen and the more recent The Finest. King, who began her acting career at age 14 as Brenda Jenkins on NBC sitcom 227, has won a number of acting awards over the past three decades, including four Primetime Emmys, a Golden Globe, and an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. The latter two were for If Beale Street Could Talk. After starring in HBO's genre-winning and award-winning Watchmen, King & # 39; s directorial debut is releasing "One Night in Miami …" by Amazon Studios amid national calls for racial justice in all areas of society. I spoke to King about how to get a grip on mistakes, how the industry is gradually expanding its representation, and why they chose One Night in Miami as their first feature film.
ICG: You said that Marla Gibbs was the first boss you saw up close. Has that affected your career choice? Regina King: Often in life you learn by setting a good example, but you only notice that afterwards. There is a saying "looking back is 20/20". I was in the close company of a woman who accomplished things we now speak of and embrace. I was in the stage version of 227 that Marla was doing in her own performing arts theater (starring), and then I saw her sell it to NBC and become the executive producer where she fought for things to be a certain way . There are a lot of women doing projects like this today, and there are so many examples, but not in 1984. And while I wasn't sitting there and taking notes, it had a big impact on me from a young age.
Who else has influenced your career? My mom is a teacher, which I think is a very powerful job, but it's just not hailed as a heroic occupation. As an adult, I began to see the impact teachers have on everyone's life. And all day long I could name other women – and men – who have influenced me: John Singleton, Paris Barclay, Christopher Chulack, Debbie Allen, Shonda Rhimes, to name a few. As with many people who have succeeded, there is a whole list of people who have made an impact in one way or another. After doing Boyz in the Hood with John (Singleton) and auditioning for Poetic Justice and getting the role, I didn't know directing would be part of my career. But it was John who opened me up to understand what a director does beyond being an actor.
Is directing more fulfilling than acting or vice versa? I can't say it's more fulfilling. Although the two are absolutely related, they are just very different. By directing I can have a little more agency for the project. As a director, I have the opportunity to work with more people who are involved with storytelling – the cameraman, the production designer, the wardrobe, and the producers. It provides the opportunity to have in-depth creative sessions and explorations with more than just your castmates, directors, or cloakroom designers, which I believe is the extent of an actor.
What did you learn about crewing from directing television? TV has taught me a lot. Actually, it was kind of a point to do the whole TV before doing this movie. I used it like my school and am very grateful to people like Shonda and Mara Brock Akil for giving me the first opportunities to go to school if you will. When I realized I wanted to be a director, Chris (Chulack) and Paris (Barclay) helped point me in the direction I needed to go. I shadowed both of them to see what a director needs to do beyond working with the actors. I've learned that communication is paramount. A good communicator for me is a person who is one: not yelling and two: taking the information and can distill it so we can have a shortcut because time is never your friend. If you are able to identify crew members who are excellent communicators, or if your communication styles are compatible, then you can think in a solution-oriented way. I don't care how much you prepare. You are going to come across something that you need to find a solution to quickly.
Despite its length of time, One Night in Miami addresses current issues of racial justice. Was that something that attracted you? Absolutely. That made it even more powerful when I first read it. It's not that these conversations didn't go on, whether it was 1950, 1960, 1990 or 2020. I read somewhere that someone had the feeling our film was trying to point a finger that was too focused on current events is. And I said, "Wow, this is clearly a person who probably isn't black." (Laughs) We are all guilty of being in our own bladders. I don't know you and I don't know what you've been through. it doesn't affect me, but that's an american story. And that person clearly has no connection to any experience other than their own and the American stories they received.
Black storytellers are more visible in Hollywood than ever before, but not black faces – especially behind the lens. How is that changing? There is a lot of pressure on those of us who are given the opportunity now. When we are successful, there are more opportunities for others. It's unfortunate that it has to be like that – like a Shaka King or a Gina Prince-Bythewood determine whether black crews are given an opportunity. It's not fair, but history has shown that. I find articles and conversations like this one helpful. When journalists and outlets decide to cover the subject, the spotlight remains on the fact that there are so many talented people who are not given the opportunity for no legitimate reason.
Do you think black representation, given #OscarsSoWhite and social justice issues last summer, will continue to transform this industry? I think it must. I often hear from (other colored people) who say they hear these conversations about black and white, but what about them? I feel like this opens the conversation for them so they take responsibility and we can do it together. But the reality is that there is a historic story between blacks and whites in America. And so much of this story has been revised. That is why we have to fight for blacks. It's not that we say we don't care about Latinos, Asians, Indians or anyone else in this country who isn't white. It's just a very specific story about how America was created that has to do with history, how blacks came here, how they built the country, how black bodies died and were erased so that the country could be like it is. That makes it a very sensitive issue. But I feel like we're making movements that are not sideways – movements that will change systems that will benefit everyone (people of color).
A few years ago you made a commitment at the Golden Globes that everything you produce from then on would be at least 50 percent women. Did you keep that promise? It was hard. And no, I couldn't keep that promise. I knew it was going to be difficult, and the lesson I learned is, “Do it and say it later!” (Laughs) But what is done is done. It won't stop me from continuing to achieve this.
Why couldn't you hire at least 50 percent women? We are now in this room where there is so much production and that is a wonderful thing. But that also means that not that many (female crews) are available. In some instances where I had hired women for a specific position, whether it was a scheduling or whatever, they couldn't stay. And with an indie film (like One Night in Miami) you don't have that much leeway, money, or time. Some people who may have been available on budget could not afford to fly them in and put them up. I also had to hire a crew in New Orleans for the tax incentive and budget so many factors come into play. Some will say that this is why what I said was such a naive statement. It's good. I will accept that. But it won't stop me from continuing to try to achieve these goals. What I was able to do in this film was meet and beat a variety. I have to give myself a little mercy for the fact that more than 50 percent of our crew weren't white cisgender men.
Even before COVID-19, functions followed in many ways content on small screens. What does the future hold for you in terms of theater experience? I like to go to the cinema. I like the whole experience – the sound, the big screen, the popcorn and the candy! For the past ten years we've had the experience of having dinner at a movie theater and oh my god that's an experience. And I realize there are people out there who say, "Shit, I can't spend an extra $ 30 just to go to the movies," but I appreciate that new trend. I know the theaters have problems and I don't want the movie theater to ever end. I hope that maybe we adapt as humans. Just like Amazon does with One Night in Miami – there will be a small theatrical release in the locations that hopefully will open in December, and after that it will be streamed. Maybe we as an industry will start working more with this type of model. But nobody really knows.
by Valentina Valentini / Photos by Patti Perret