Regina King on tackling social responsibility in ‘One Night in Miami…’: “Sometimes you’ve got to burn it all down”

The actress turned director talks to theGrio about her feature film directorial debut

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Regina King released One Night in Miami…to the world on her 50th birthday, which she shares with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The film, starring Aldis Hodge as Jim Brown, Kingsley Ben-Adir as Malcolm X, Leslie Odom, Jr. as Sam Cooke and Eli Goree as Muhammad Ali, could not have come at a better time. 

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While the film is King’s first feature as a director, she has directed several episodes of some of television’s most popular titles like Scandal, Insecure, Shameless, and This Is Us, among others. 

Regina King One Night in Miami Amazon
Regina King attends the 92nd Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood and Highland on February 09, 2020 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Amy Sussman/Getty Images)

theGrio caught up with the Emmy and Oscar-winning actress turned director to discuss the film based on the play by Kemp Powers, which is sparking new conversations about the varying paths of activism and what role Black celebrities should have in the fight for social justice. 

It takes place during the real-life gathering of four legendary Black men after Muhammad Ali’s victory over Sonny Liston in 1964, but its message couldn’t be more timely. As our country’s racial tensions hit another boiling point, many people are wondering where they fit in and who they should look to for leadership.

“I hope that it’s a good thing. I hope that people feel like it’s a call to action,” says King. “I hope that the fact that while we’re in a pandemic, things change. So now it’s a film that will be going worldwide to 200 million people opposed to whatever screen count that would have been if we weren’t in a pandemic.”

King is hoping her film will inspire viewers to take up the cause.

“I have to believe that the universe has no– there’s no mistaking that this and other pieces of art that are out there are going to motivate people in some way… Hopefully some life will imitate art.” 

King also weighed in on how working on a film that tackles issues of racial injustice, religion, and social responsibility affected her own understanding of what the resistance should look like.

“We all struggle. I don’t know if, internal struggle, is the right word but we find ourselves having these conversations and figuring out what our social responsibility is,” she says. 

We have seen activism take on many different forms throughout our history, particularly when it comes to celebrities who may have different approaches to using their platforms in ways that help our community.

“The thing about it is, there’s this beautiful dynamic that’s for debate that’s going on in the film and you leave the film while understanding that they both exist, that that they are both necessary in order to really affect true change,” she continues.

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“Getting to know Kemp [Powers], I was left with the understanding that there are several different modalities, ways of going about affecting change that are all going to be necessary, working together to actually see that transformation. It’s going to be situational. Sometimes you’ve got burn it all down and start from the beginning. And sometimes it’s an economic approach.”

Check out the full interview above.

One Night in Miami… is available now on Amazon Prime. 

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