Meeting of the Minds

Regina King, who won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for If Beale Street Could Talk, goes behind the camera with One Night In Miami. Adapted by Kemp Powers from his own play, it fictionalises a 1964 meeting between four icons: activist Malcolm X, singer Sam Cooke, football star Jim Brown and boxer Cassius Clay – aka Muhammad Ali.

ASFF: Do you think One Night In Miami offers a counter narrative to the way black men are often presented in film and television?
RK: I mean, yes, definitely. I think a lot of black people, when you see the news…it always seemed to be that when something was being reported on, they would seem to find the black person that least represented the black people that you know, that are your family members. I feel like one of the inspirations was that you can use these four icons as a voice for the black men that [you might be] friends with, and family members that are articulate and have thoughts that are complex. And it seems to me that people can receive the idea that a black man looks like this and talks like this and feels like this. They receive it – ‘they’ being the audience – with open arms when you’re hearing it through the lens of these iconic luminaries.

ASFF: The film shows a side of Malcolm X and Cassius Clay that is more fragile. Did you want to humanize them?

RK: Absolutely, I mean, that was one of the things when I read Kemp’s script that was so wonderful to me. I’ve been saying this over and over again. But I feel like Kemp wrote a love letter to the black man’s experience. It goes back to something that I said earlier…you are witnessing thoughts and emotions from luminaries, but they are before Malcolm X or before Cassius Clay; they are men first, they are men before any of the labels that are put on them. And what was most important was that I needed to find the actors who were able to access that vulnerability, but also do it in a way that’s still strong at the same time.

ASFF: How did the casting process unfold?
RK: I was very lucky with Eli [Goree, as Cassius Clay] and Kingsley [Ben-Adir, as Malcolm X]. Both of them really, personally embodied those things and understood that this was not about just tell the telling of a story of Cassius Clay or the telling the story of Malcolm X. [It’s about telling] this moment in four men’s lives, who happened to be Malcolm, Sam, Jim, Cassius. They’re men first, they’re friends, they’re brothers first. And while Cassius is the youngest of them all, he has this knowingness. He is wise beyond his years in a lot of ways, because he understands that if they don’t lean on each other in this moment, then who’s gonna be there for each other?

ASFF: How do you feel these four men related?
RK: The thing that they have in common is that they are black men, no matter how much money they have, no matter how much money they don’t have, what their backgrounds are…there’s that one thing that is the same no matter what: no matter where you go, eventually, you are going to be judged by the colour of your skin. And that’s never going to change, no matter what your success is, or how much education you have or how many books you read. And how do we navigate that? And so it’s an exploration as well as a celebration of who they are. So, yes, you can only celebrate the man if you celebrate all that comes with it.

ASFF: Your film played in Venice and you were the first woman director of colour to play in competition. How vital do you feel that is?
RK: Well, it’s very important and interesting because how this film performs will open doors or maybe close doors for more black female directors. Unfortunately, that’s kind of how it is and I don’t think this is really just specific to America. I think it’s just across the world, that’s how things seem to work. One woman will get a shot and if she does not succeed, then it shuts things down for years to come until an opportunity comes again for another woman to get that shot.

One Night in Miami is available on Amazon Prime Video from 15 January. For more details click here.

James Mottram