Actress Regina King makes her feature directing debut with the film adaptation of Kemp Powers’ award-winning 2013 stage play, “One Night in Miami,” which will celebrate its world premiere later today at the Venice Film Festival. The film is a fictional account of a real-life incident in which Muhammad Ali — then known as Cassius Clay — spent an evening hanging out with Malcolm X, football great Jim Brown, and crooner Sam Cooke. Speaking during a virtual press conference on Monday, King said, via Variety, that she hoped the film would be the kind of commercial success that could inspire “transformative change” for Black women directors.
“It will be very interesting to see how this film performs because how [the audience] receives it will either open doors or close doors for other Black, female directors,” she said. “The way it is, one woman will get a shot, and if she doesn’t succeed, it shuts things down for years to come. I really, really want it to perform well. There is so much talent out there, so many talented directors. If ‘One Night in Miami’ gets it done here, you’ll get to see a lot more of us.”
As documented by annual studies from the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative and UCLA’s Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies, Black women have struggled to land directing jobs in Hollywood, remaining severely underrepresented among the creatives who make the aesthetic choices that define a project’s essence. This sober reality stands in contrast to the steady progress that Black women have made in front of the camera in recent years.
Despite stringent calls for gender parity, and the introduction of various industry initiatives aimed at shifting historical trends, according to USC’s Inclusion Initiative, of the 1,200 top grossing films released between 2007 and 2018, only five were directed by African American women, with no noticeable change over time. Women from minority racial/ethnic groups are grossly underrepresented.
This demonstrates that these groups still have a long way to go before reaching proportionate representation, underscoring how much more resistant Hollywood decision makers have been to advancing diversity behind the camera than in front of it.
Set on February 25, 1964, “One Night in Miami” centers on 22-year-old Clay as he leaves the Miami Beach Convention Center after defeating Sonny Liston and becoming the world heavyweight boxing champion. However, he can’t celebrate in Miami Beach because of racist Jim Crow-era segregation laws, so he ends up spending the night at the Hampton House Motel in Miami’s Overtown neighborhood with three friends: Cooke, Brown, and Malcolm X. Leslie Odom Jr. portrays Cooke, Kingsley Ben-Adir plays Malcolm X, Aldis Hodge is Brown, and “Riverdale” star Eli Goree stars as Clay.
The film was snapped up by Amazon Studios in late July, with the streamer taking world rights, and eyeing a year-end release for awards consideration. King said she wanted an earlier release, but the pandemic, and nationwide racial justice protests following the death of George Floyd, altered that plan.
“We thought we’d push it back because we didn’t know what the climate of going to theaters would be like,” she 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.”
“One Night” producers are Jess Wu Calder and Keith Calder of Snoot Entertainment (“Blindspotting,” “Anomalisa”) and Jody Klein of ABKCO (“The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus”). King and Powers are executive producers.