Regina King is earning rave reviews for her directorial feature film debut “One Night In Miami”, playing as part of this year’s Toronto International Film Festival programme.
Based on Kemp Powers’ play, the story follows a fictional meeting of Black icons and real-life friends, Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), football star Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), newly-crowned heavyweight boxing champ Cassius Clay (Eli Goree), and soul singer Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) as they spend one fateful night in Miami in 1964 discussing their roles as revolutionaries, leaders and activists.
For King, getting the chance to tell a story about not just the icons everyone knows, but a story about the very human nature of these men.
“I had never seen something like this,” King tells ET Canada’s Sangita Patel ahead of the film’s TIFF premiere. “I knew these men, but this is my father, my son, my uncle, my best friend. Its Kemp’s love letter to the Black man’s experience and I wanted in on that.” She adds that directing her first feature made her learn that “I have even more patience than I thought I had.”
With a talented cast of young actors taking on the iconic roles, King knew she had found her Cassius Clay in Halifax actor Goree who played the boxing legend just prior to changing his name to Muhammad Ali.
“I got to see him transform,” she says of the Canadian actor. “It’s so fantastic to watch. I brag about this: I got a front-row seat to see these men transform, no one else experienced that the way I got to. Their performances are just amazing In the casting process that’s what I was looking for, the commitment and Eli had that commitment from the beginning and I got to literally watch him transform his body, watch it happen with the way he walked, the dialect. It was just a joy to witness and also a phew thank God. Right choice. With all of them,” she laughs.
Though the story is set in 1964, the timeliness of the subject matter is just as relevant today, especially in the wake of the racial injustice in the U.S. making headlines around the world.
“Going into it, I knew how powerful these conversations were because, unfortunately, 60 years later what these men were talking about are being discussed now,” she tells ET Canada. “When the protests started happening and we were in a pandemic, it made me feel it’s really necessary – it’s more than just a story, it’s a call to action and hopefully it’s received that way.”
King had one person in mind when telling the tale of the four men: her 24-year-old son, Ian.
“I’m a mom of a 24-year-old and this is a story for him,” she says. “People say, ‘who did you make this for?’ and obviously, you want everyone to see this film but, if you set out to make a film trying to please everyone it’s just going to implode. If you have an audience in mind it keeps your focus and for me, and I wanted every Black man I know and love to see themselves in this story and my son is that.”
Though King is celebrating this time in her career, that also includes an Emmy nomination for her role in “Watchmen”, she says it’s “frustrating” that she isn’t able to celebrate in person with her four leads.
“I can’t even hug my four actors as we share in this moment together so that’s a little frustrating,” she says, but she tells ET Canada she is “finding joy in people finding joy in this film, when people are feeling inspired when they are seeing this film, when they feel emotional.”