Yesterday evening, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) hosted Regina King for an online masterclass on her career and craft of acting and directing.
BAFTA Masterclass: Regina King is part of BAFTAs year-round free online events series, featuring BAFTA-winning and nominated shows and talent, open to the public and industry.
Regina King was in conversation with presenter, actor and filmmaker Reggie Yates. Key quotes from the masterclass are available below, including on Regina King directing her first feature film One Night in Miami; doing projects with a message of social justice; why having black characters at the centre of stories that aren’t about race is so powerful; what she learnt as a director from Barry Jenkins and why British actors should be able to play American roles.
Regina King discusses how directing was always in her fate and how it was not out of vanity;
RY: Was your journey to becoming a director inevitable? Did you always know that that was something you were going to do?
RK: I did not always know, but I do believe that my journey to become a director was inevitable. […] My experiences with John (Singleton), particularly in between Boys n the Hood and Poetic Justice. Poetic Justice, once I’d gotten the part, I reached out to John and had just so many questions and I think my excitement and the depth of my questions made him open up or inspired him to open up his entire preparation process for me. Up until that time, I did not realise all that entails when you’re a director to get to the moment that I’m actually spending with the directors as the actor. I was able to see his storyboards and him putting the storyboards together and watching some films with him that inspired him or that were inspiration for Poetic Justice. I was able to hear him having conversations, deciding what department heads would be coming on board for a couple positions he hadn’t yet hired. I was just fascinated and blown away, but I can’t say in that moment, I was feeling like I’m going to do this. My respect level for the director definitely moved up a notch or two.”
“It’s not an easy feat to get to the space of actor and people regarding your directing hyphenate as something that’s not a thing that you’re doing out of vanity. It’s something that you’re doing because you truly have realised within yourself that there is a part of the storytelling process that you want to be involved in a much deeper level. You want to have more control of the aesthetic and the tone and the story that you’re telling and you’re able to do that as a director. I just think as actors, once we made that discovery on a conscious level, we were ready to actively pursue it.
On moving towards doing projects which make a statement about social justice, Regina said:
RK “I feel like there was a point in my life, and maybe somewhere around 2010, where I think it became very much a common theme that I was gravitating to projects that truly spoke to social issues that were going on or at least holding a mirror and just forcing conversations that encouraged people to look at our reflection, specifically in America. I don’t think I was as aware that was happening until Watchmen and look back at everything from Southland, to American Crime, to If Beale Street Could Talk, to Seven Seconds that all of these pieces of work that are the stories that I was a part of, these storytellers that I was collaborating with, our values and our feeling that it was necessary to tell these type of stories were aligned. That is, this space that I’ve been in and the circumstances that have taken place in my life have led me to these choices. I guess when you speak about legacy in that regard, it is absolutely important to me. I feel like this film, One Night in Miami, some of the things that are going on within the film speak to that, what does social responsibility look like for you as an artist? I feel that like I said, maybe 10 years ago, it started becoming more clear to me that my personal journey is using my voice when it comes to social responsibility.”
Despite this, Regina also went on to explain why her future projects won’t always have a theme of social justice, and the importance of stories with black characters at the centre of them:
RY: “With everything happening in the world right now, are you having any inspiration for projects in the future?”
RK: “I’m developing things that are lighter in subject matter. But yes, quite a few of the other projects that I’m developing still are reflective. They are reflections of what is going on in our world. That is something I can’t help what to do. But I am a fun person, I do laugh, I do like to talk shit. That is other things that maybe, if you look at what I’ve done in the past, again 10 years, may seem as though everything that I do is with the intention of having a particular message, but I would say that there are things that I have in development. The thing that may be different about them is that their story’s being told with a person of colour at the centre, but the story itself may not rest on the fact of race or anything like that. […] Soul really inspired me because it reminded me that we can have stories that are about things that the soul is a universal thing, it’s not specific to a certain colour or certain culture. We’re seeing all of these cultural themes in the black community through Solve. But that’s not what the film was about, it wasn’t about being black. It was about your soul, and what you do with your soul. I feel like that’s quite powerful. I think that’s equally as powerful. I think they both are necessary.”
On being influenced by Barry Jenkins (If Beal Street Could Talk), Regina said:
RK: “I would say one of the big things that I was able to take away from Beale Street is that Barry’s attention to detail in the nuanced subtle moments, especially taking the time in those moments, and just being there for the experience, and then seeing the final product. It really helped me to understand how much those moments make the entire project sync. While those moments are not the moments that are on page, on paper, those are the moments that Barry created that were the difference between loving Sharon and Joe just a little bit more than you may have loved them if we were doing just only what was on the page. Taking that away from that experience, going into One Night in Miami so soon after having that experience with Barry and already being a fan of his work. I remember thinking, this is why Moonlight was just mind-blowing and why I felt like I was no longer in a movie theatre, I was there, it’s because of the subtleties. I was able to infuse moments like that into One Night in Miami. I definitely without a doubt, if I had not had that experience with Barry, I know I would not have been sensitive to the idea that moments like this are absolutely necessary to a story.”
Speaking on depicting Icons in One Night in Miami, Regina said:
RY: “You’ve got Malcolm X, you’ve got Muhammad Ali, you’ve got people that are icons, Sam Cooke. Just how much detail did you go to in ensuring that you were bringing to screen versions of these men? Or were they just that, versions?”
RK: ‘We definitely went into deep detail because we are also capturing a moment in time. This is not biography of all four of these men. This is a moment in time, that is a snapshot of what brotherhood looks like, of what vulnerability looks like for men and how their vulnerability is actually the thing that makes them strong. It’s a snapshot of the young Cassius that we never get the opportunity to see. Yeah, back to subtle moments. We look at all four of those men, almost as gods, as if they had no fears, if they had no emotions, if they had no doubts, if they had no concerns. The reality is that it is impossible to reach the level of success or to be as known as much as they were known in their respective fields and not experienced those things. They’re not cyborgs, they’re men. There’s just couple of little subtle moments throughout the film, whether they were things in direction or things in dialogue that, while we’re not trying to hit you over the head with it, there are these subtle moments that humanise him that much more when Cassius, after the prayer, looks at himself in the mirror and it’s just that one slight little moment where he could be possibly doubting himself, but Malcolm asks him, “Are you ready?” He goes, “I’m ready.” But we all have those moments. As we fail to realise that this night that actually happened, while it is an imagination of what could have been discussed while they were together on that night, they were also young. They were so young. There is something, in my opinion, very powerful about reminding the world that
they were that young. Like you, they had concerns and while they celebrated each other, they also were having a moment of fellowship.
Regina King on why British Actors should be able to play American roles:
RK: “If I was moved by a performance, I really don’t care where a person’s from. Because as an audience member, to me they truly understood what they were doing, what they were embodying. After Kingsley’s first audition, I wanted to give him some notes. I wanted to just talk to him and get to know him and get to know what his relationship was to Malcolm. He said all the things that I needed to hear him say and I think it’s unfortunate that this is where we are. One of the things that I’ve truly understood or discovered throughout this process of One Night in Miami, is that upon first receiving this and reading it, I thought, “Wow, Kemp, this is just a love letter to the black man’s experience in America.” But then taking that step back and really taking in marginalised people across the world. There are feelings and experiences that black people in the UK, in Brazil feel that are the same as in America. While the history of how a country came to be may be different, but the marginalisation of a black man is the same, colorism is the same in all of those places. A black man getting on the elevator full of white people and him having to put on a talisman to make them more comfortable just so he can have a less stressful day is a very real thing whether that black man is in America, in the UK, or anywhere else. Again, Kingsley was the best actor for that role Eli was the best actor for that role. Sure, neither one of them are American. But can they relate to the experience and the pain felt by a black person for being disregarded just because of the colour of your skin? Absolutely, they can. Can they take it upon themselves to make sure they educate themselves on the ways it’s specific to America in the history of how black Americans had built this country, it was built on the bodies of black Americans? They can definitely educate themselves on that and they did. I wouldn’t change my choices for anyone.”
One Night in Miami will be available to watch globally on Amazon Prime from 15 January