NEW YORK – With the smell of wildfire smoke seeping into her Los Angeles home, Regina King was getting ready for the premiere of her feature film directorial debut at the Toronto International Film Festival.
The Oscar-winning actor, who sat in the director’s chair for “One Night in Miami,” wished she could pose with her cast and give them hugs. But with the pandemic scuttling travel plans, she was settling for a virtual appearance that she equated to a certain television family.
“We are going to try to make the best as we can with our little ‘Brady Bunch’ boxes and try to hope the people that are watching will be inspired and excited about catching one of the screenings,” King said.
Based on the stage play by Kemp Powers, the film tells a fictional account of four prominent Black Americans gathered in a hotel room in 1964 after a 22-year old Cassius Clay stuns the boxing world with a victory over heavyweight champion Sonny Liston.
Clay, who would later change his name to Muhammad Ali, joins Malcolm X, Jim Brown and Sam Cooke to discuss racial inequities and ways of using their celebrity to end segregation in the South. The following morning, they emerge determined to make the world a better place.
King, who took home a supporting actress Oscar last year for “If Beale Street Can Talk,” is getting early Hollywood awards buzz for the film. She's directed numerous television episodes over the years.
King said that as she was crafting the film over the past few years, she seized “this opportunity to use our art in a powerful way." But she had no idea what would transpire this year, including the renewed calls for racial justice after the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer.
“I would say we probably figured that there was going to be another police killing, but we didn’t know that there was going to be an uprising,” she said.
But King is cautious about making a political statement though art.
“I do feel like when you go into something and you want people to leave with a call to arms, call to action or a message — that’s always better received when you do (it) through an entertaining package,” she said.
King says the key problem was picking what she calls her “quadrumvirate” of actors to play Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.), Brown (Aldis Hodge) and Clay (Eli Goree).
“I would talk to them individually, needing to hear that we had this similar, if not the same, expectations going into it, and all four of these men mirrored that - those expectations. And those expectations were to be very clear that we were not going in here to do impersonations or to do anything like what we’d seen before,” King said.
She added: "I am only five-three, but I will go toe to toe with anybody who has anything to say differently. I stand by these performers and the truth that these brothers expressed through Kemp’s words.”
“One Night in Miami” was recently acquired by Amazon Studios and is expected to be released by the end of the year.