Regina King was looking for her Titanic. After three decades in Hollywood as an actress, starting with her child-star beginnings on the sitcom 227, King felt ready to move behind the camera, to direct her first feature film. She’d helmed episodes of television (Scandal, Insecure, Being Mary Jane), but directing TV is a little bit like being a day player, where you parachute onto a set to execute the showrunner’s vision. King asked her agents to find a script for her: “I told them I would love to do a film that was a love story with a historical backdrop, like a Titanic,” she says. “I feel that with Black people, stories like that are few and far between.”
We’re talking over Zoom on a December afternoon. King is dressed casually in a hoodie and big silver hoops, her hair tucked under a head wrap. She’s currently in Santa Fe, a city she describes as “having more sunny days than L.A.,” where she’s from and has never left. “I’m really a sneaker type of chick,” she explains. The red-carpet glam — the white Oscar de la Renta gown she wore to accept her best supporting actress Oscar in 2019; the pillowy cobalt blue Schiaparelli Couture gown that she slipped on before last year’s virtual Emmys, where she took home a trophy for Watchmen — comes courtesy of her stylists Wayman and Micah, who jokingly refer to fashion as “fash.” (“They just created a space for me to make a story out of the fashion, and I’ve never looked at it that way before,” King says in maybe the most director’s-eye approach to personal style ever.) In real life, she prefers to look like this: dressed down with a wrap on.
As clear as King was about looking for a script that was big and romantic, her agents sent her something else: One Night in Miami. Based on a play by Kemp Powers, the adaptation fictionalized a real-life meeting of the minds–cum–hangout session that happened the night of February 25, 1964, between Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali (then still using the name Cassius Clay), Sam Cooke, and Jim Brown. Over the course of the movie’s two hours, the men laugh and fuss, pace around their hotel room, drink, chill. It’s not the big, loud, “I’ll never let go, Jack” epic King had in mind, but One Night in Miami finds its own romance as an intimate character study of four young Black men and their ambitions, doubts, and dreams. With humor and urgency, they talk through the symbiotic relationship between art, athletics, and activism; they’re trying to figure out how to be Black and famous and principled, how to be Black and alive. King was drawn to the potency of their debates: “It really humanized them. I feel like we don’t get the opportunity to see Black men like this, and most of us have Black men who are this layered in our lives, who have this much love and strength and vulnerability, all of those things, in one.”
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