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Regina King: Black Lives Matter protests were powder-keg moment

Regina King (Jonathan Brady/PA)
Regina King (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Regina King has described the Black Lives Matter protests of last summer as a “powder-keg moment”.

The Oscar-winning actress, 49, made her directorial debut with the film One Night In Miami, which tells a fictional account of rights activist Malcolm X, boxer Cassius Clay, singer Sam Cooke and American football star Jim Brown spending a night in a hotel room together, as they discuss their roles in the civil rights movement.

The film, which began shooting last year, paused production after the outbreak of Covid-19 and only resumed after protests had taken place around the world following the death of unarmed black man George Floyd as a white police officer knelt on his neck.

King told the PA news agency: “The things that we were talking about in this film are things that have been prescient for black people far before 1964, and I think it was one of those things, a nod from the universe.

“There were real powder-keg moments that were happening in ’64, ’63, ’62, that we come full circle to this powder-keg moment in 2020.

“So I think, as a team, we felt like this story was always going to be relevant, now there are even more people whose minds are fertile and ready and more open to receive the message.”

Riverdale actor Eli Goree, who plays Clay shortly before he changed his name to Muhammad Ali, said the death of Mr Floyd and subsequent protests changed his approach to the rest of the film.

He told PA: “As a black man in this world this has always been a high-intensity interaction with society, it’s been heightened stakes my whole life, but definitely things had a huge seismic shift after Covid, in terms of the public outcry (over the death of Floyd) and it made a big difference for me in my performance.

“I had the scene with Leslie (Odom Jr, who plays Cooke) in a car where I’m talking about what black people really want is to be free and to make our own choices and determine our own futures and to be treated as human beings, and that scene was very difficult for me in the audition process.

“I remember really searching to connect to the words, to make them real. Even though I felt them, it’s sometimes hard to express that as an artist in a way that isn’t cliche or isn’t trying to force something, and just to say it and to have it be what it is and be real and connect, without trying to make anything up.

“After that whole experience, and having the opportunity to process all that, getting on set I remember those scenes were so easy because everything I was saying, I literally could have been talking to Leslie just as my friend and saying those exact same words.

“It was definitely a huge impact on my performance personally during that time.”

The 91st Academy Awards – Press Room – Los Angeles
Regina King with her Oscar (Alberto Rodriguez/PA)

King, who won a best supporting actress Oscar for If Beale Street Could Talk, said she has been gratified by the awards buzz her directing has received, as well as that of other female directors, including Nomadland’s Chloe Zhao.

She said: “In trying to look at the beauty in a moment, I guess it’s that there are, for the first time in a while, several women that are being talked about in that conversation, and with all really original pieces of work and so different, and you can see all of our passion in what we have done and that is very exciting, that is super exciting.”

One Night In Miami is out on Amazon Prime Video on January 15.

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