By Ron Wynn
Award-winning actress Regina King is cautiously optimistic about her new film “One Night in Miami,” which debuts this week at the Venice Film Festival. King told Variety that the film may or may not open more doors for Black women directors, but if the reception were good, perhaps things would definitely improves on that front.
“Unfortunately, across the world, that’s how things seem to work. One woman gets a shot and if she does not succeed, it shuts thing down for years until someone else gets a shot,” King said, speaking from the U.S. at a “One Night in Miami” press conference via Zoom at the Venice Film Festival on Monday. “I am so grateful for our film to be a part of the festival but I really, really want it to perform well. There’s so much talent out there — so many talented directors — so if ‘One Night in Miami’ gets it done here, you’ll get to see a lot more of us.”
“One Night in Miami” is based on former journalist Kemp Powers’ fictional account of a real meeting in 1964 between U.S. minister and political figure Malcolm X; 22-year-old Muhammad Ali when he was still Cassius Clay; “A Change is Gonna Come” singer Sam Cooke; and NFL player Jim Brown.
Powers, who was part of the Zoom-based press conference in Venice, said his discovery of the meeting, in Mike Marqusee’s book “Redemption Song: Muhammad Ali and the Spirit of the Sixties,” was like finding “the Black Avengers.” The film began shooting in November 2019. Amazon purchased it in late July. King said she had intended for the film to come out earlier this year, but the pandemic and subsequent Black Lives Matter movement following the death of George Floyd added a new level of urgency to the film’s release.
“We thought we’d push it back because we didn’t know what the climate of going to theaters would be like,” King said. “And then a couple of months after the pandemic hit, [George Floyd died in police custody], and for all the producers and everyone involved, we were like, ‘This needs to come out now.’ I feel like fate always had it planned out this way, but maybe we’re lucky and we’re going to have the opportunity to be a piece of art out there that moves the needle in a conversation about transformative change.”
“Before they are Malcolm X and Cassius Clay, they are men before any of the other things, and the labels that are put on them… No matter how much money they have or don’t have, one thing is the same: no matter where you go, you’ll be judged by the color of your skin and that’s never going to change.”
The issue of political freedom versus economic freedom is one of the film’s key topics. In Powers’ fictionalized account of the meeting, Malcom X assails Cooke on the apolitical nature of his songs, questioning why he “panders” to white audiences. The singer defends himself by saying he owns the masters to his music, and rather than go for a “piece of the pie, [he wants] the whole recipe” in regards to economic independence. Powers said these are questions he is still contemplating in his own life, noting “there are times when you have to work within the system and there are times when things just have to go.”
“Sam Cooke and Malcom X both make cogent points. People come away and say, ‘Well, yeah, Sam had it right,’ and others say Malcolm was right. That’s actually a conflict that goes on inside of me every day as an artist. I sincerely believe, through hundreds of conversations with other Black artists, [that] it’s a conflict that goes on inside all of us, all the time. You talk to people and they say, ‘I just want to be seen as an actor, not a Black actor.’ We’re never going to get away from that.”