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Tag: Regina King

Reviews

Review: One Night in Miami [London Film Festival]

October 11, 2020
One Night In Miami

In a 2014 interview, the activist and writer Angela Y. Davis decried the emphasis on individualism in American history. “It is essential to resist the depiction of history as the work of heroic individuals,” she said, as a way to make sure that people today are able to recognise their “potential agency as part of a community of struggle.” In Regina King’s directorial debut, One Night in Miami, we spend time with four black men who might fall into the category of “heroic individuals” yet we seem them collaborate, argue, and support each other: Cassius Clay, Jim Brown, Sam Cooke, and Malcolm X.

Leslie Odom Jr. stars in ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI Photo: Patti Perret/Amazon Studios

In 1964, Cassius Clay (soon to become Muhammad Ali) beat Sonny Liston to become the boxing World Heavyweight Champion despite odds, 7-1, saying he would lose. The win launched Clay into the public eye in a new way and, shortly after, he announced his conversion to Islam and his new name. One Night in Miami takes place over a few hours after that history-making fight and sees Clay (played with flair by Eli Goree, Riverdale) celebrate in a hotel room with his friends revolutionary Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir, High Fidelity), NFL hero turned movie star Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge, The Invisible Man), and, the King of Soul, Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr., Hamilton). As the night draws on, tensions rise, and the discussion moves to how positions of power, stages in the public eye, can be used to speak out against the rampant racism and violence of the mid-sixties.

In this sense, it is a clash between Malcolm and Cooke that takes the central focus. Malcolm, already being followed by the FBI, believes in freedom by utilising activism; speaking out, challenging the powers that be, and refusing to play by their rules. While Cooke, who has been pursuing success on the pop charts and playing segregated venues like the Copacabana, believes in winning them over with his music – not music that is politically minded, but music that is soft and gentle which might lead a white audience to realise black people really are just like them. 

Kingsley Ben-Adir stars in ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI Photo: Patti Perret/Amazon Studios

This is an issue that has plagued nearly every movement for rights in the past decade; how do we do it? Is it done politely, with the oppressor setting the guidelines for how the discourse can play out? Or is it in the hands of the oppressed to fight against whatever way they see fit be it through boycott, protest, or rioting? Even now, in response to the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests, white people and conservatives are still trying to dictate how the oppressed can politely ask for their rights. Peaceful protest is allowed but kneeling during the national anthem is too far. Organised marching is okay but not during COVID and not if it descends into violence – even if that violence is, more often than not, instigated by the police.

King’s timely debut spends a lot of time unpacking this idea, as Malcolm and Sam become more heated the others offer advice too. Brown, sympathetic to Malcolm’s ideas, offers that Cooke is seeking “economic freedom” which is essential within capitalist structures while Clay seems to advocate for unity between the four regardless of opinion. This is part of the immense power One Night in Miami holds; it can jostle with lofty political debate, engage with political theory, and ideological differences yet it remains a downright entertaining, gripping, and riveting drama. The latter is mostly down to the cast, all of whom are incredibly exciting and captivating on-screen while embodying their famous characters. Ben-Adir oozes righteousness with hints of the radical and smatterings of kindness, Hodge offers a stoicism, graceful and straightforward (plus the way his eyes react can tell you more than 100 pages of dialogue), Goree appears enamoured with a naïve confidence and boyish attitude while maintaining maturity in his decisions, and Odom Jr.’s light-hearted exterior gives way to waves of intense internal conflict.

Regina King at the 91st Academy Awards Photo: ABC

Of course, all of the above would not be possible with King’s deft and subtle direction that creates both a sense of claustrophobia in the small hotel room and also suggests a future far beyond it filled with possibility. King, who has won multiple Emmys for acting in shows like American Crime and Watchmen as well as an Oscar for her portrayal of Sharon Rivers in 2018’s If Beale Street Could Talk, is no stranger to directing despite this being her debut feature. For TV she has directed episodes of HBO’s hit comedy Insecure, NBC’s prized weepy This is Us, and Shondaland’s twisty political drama Scandal amongst others. In One Night in Miami, she isn’t afraid of the intimacy the film (adapted from a stage play of the same name by Kemp Powers) offers, nor is she afraid of the complexity the debate at its centre offers. She only slightly resists its theatrical trappings, by adding an elongated intro and occasional flashbacks, which is a bold step but one that ultimately pays off. Yet, that shouldn’t come as a surprise from an actor who has, in the past decade, defined herself as one of the industry’s best and brightest. 

In Zadie Smith’s recent essay collection, Intimations, she writes about the recent murder of George Floyd at the hands of police officers by conceptualising racism as a virus that has infected America, one that arrived long before COVID-19. “I used to think one day there would be a vaccine,” she wrote. “I don’t think that anymore.” This is not defeatism, but it is something that becomes easier and easier to understand as the decades go by, and things don’t seem to change. In one scene, Malcolm passionately cries that black people are being “murdered in the streets” and that it’s not enough to “sit on the fence” anymore (Malcolm himself would be murdered less than a year after Clay’s historic win). This does not seem unlike the sentiment we see today, one that still hopes for change but has decades of stagnation to look back on. In presenting this debate, on how to dissent and when, King offers an artistic, entertaining, and thoroughly impressive comment on our current climate. How do we move forward? We will not get there individually but rather with the help of others, standing collectively, and, like the song the film finishes with, knowing that a change is gonna come.

One Night In Miami – First Look Clip (Amazon Studios)

One Night in Miami is playing at the BFI Southbank 11th & 12th October as part of the London Film Festival 2020.

It will be released nationwide by Amazon Studios in early 2021.

Also Read: Why Watchmen Is One Of The Best TV Shows In Recent Times

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Editorials

Why Watchmen Is One Of The Best TV Shows In Recent Times

January 24, 2020
Watchmen TV Series

Let’s start at the beginning. Watchmen was a comic book series written by Alan Moore and drawn by Dave Gibbons and released in 1986. Alan Moore is probably the most respected and critically acclaimed comic book writer of his generation. The comic book is essentially an in-depth look at superheroes with characters in this book as stand-ins for famous superheroes or superhero types. The comic book was so beloved it was listed on Time Magazine’s list of top 100 novels over the lifespan of the magazine. Whilst beloved it was often regarded as unfilmable and certainly Moore had no wish for it to be made into a film. After years of stalled projects and different directors, Zack Snyder released his version in 2009 to mixed reviews. In 2019 we had a Watchmen TV show, brought to us via HBO and Damon Lindelof (best known as the man behind Lost). I’ll say this now – this is one of the greatest television programmes I have ever seen.

The TV Series

Watchmen HBO
Watchmen (source: variety.com)

While some characters from the graphic novel/film reappear like Adrian Veidt and Laurie Blake the central character is newcomer Angela Abar (played in a superb performance by Regina King), a detective in the Tulsa police department. Importantly in this world, all cops wear masks after a coordinated attack on police officers at their homes years before so cops became anonymous and detectives adopted costumes – Angela is Sister Night. The show effectively goes through Angela’s entire life over the course of the season (something it does for other characters in less detail) explaining how she became the person she is. The main plot follows the machinations of The 7th Cavalry, an extreme right-wing racist organisation who seem to want to wage an all-out race-war and were behind the “White Night” when police officers were attacked.

Seemingly completely separately a bizarre story of an old man living a lonely if palatial existence on a grand English estate (that maybe doubles as a prison) is played out, his only companions are maddeningly obedient servants. I don’t think it’s meant to be a secret that this is Adrian Veidt (played by Jeremy Irons in the best performance I’ve seen from him in a long time), one of the characters from the graphic novel whose superhero identity is Ozymandias. As well as being incredibly wealthy and the smartest man in the world Veidt takes credit for saving the world whilst killing three million people – but only a handful of people are aware of this.

Why Is It Great?

Watchmen HBO
Watchmen (source: vox.com)

Characters Are Key

Watchmen is a television show that puts understanding characters first and all the events that transpire are rooted in how these characters would act. It could be said that the whole season is explaining Angela Abar – her childhood, her marriage, her family, her job, her whole life and even events that happened before she was born. All of what happens makes sense, there are no inexplicable character decisions just to make the plot more exciting. And it is not just Angela whose life is analysed, many of the main characters’ lives are examined through flashbacks, such as her costumed cop colleague Wade Tillman/Looking Glass. The single most important thing in any story is you have to care about the characters, love them or hate them, the outcome is important and Watchmen achieved this in spectacular fashion. Rarely have I been as invested in a character as I was with Angela.

Dealing With Loss

Watchmen (source: popsugar.com)

Everyone in this show has lost something – whether it be people or sometimes more intangible concepts. Fitting in with a common superhero trope Angela is an orphan, Looking Glass lost his faith and peace of mind, Laurie Blake lost her superhero identity as well as an actual superhero. Much of the plot revolves around a murder that takes place in the first episode. Adrian Veidt rages against his lost power and influence and when someone as talented as him is going through grief there will be consequences.

Relevance Today

The first scene of the TV show is a portrayal of the Tulsa Massacre, a real event where white people essentially destroyed one of the most prosperous black neighbourhoods in all of America. The significance of this event on the rest of the story is not immediately apparent but slowly comes together across the episodes gradually unfolding, making more sense and not only shedding light on the current TV series but origin stories of characters created in the graphic novel. The 7th Cavalry talk about race traitors, look up to the KKK and occasionally complain about how hard it is to be a white man in America – it is difficult viewing.

A lot of time is spent analysing the never-ending struggle between freedom and security, justice and vengeance. The graphic novel did not like the idea of superheroes a great deal and thought about who actually goes out and beats criminals to a pulp (or worse) and the TV show continues that tradition.

There is also the dive into the worlds of the super-rich, mega-billionaires with resources that eclipse nations and what exactly their motivations are.

The Story

Watchmen HBO
Watchmen (cracked.com)

The intricate story at the heart of the TV show is expertly delivered to the audience, there are plots, secrets, twists, villains and maybe one or two heroes, all of it is fascinating and told in an original and exciting way.

The End

There are many more reasons to watch this show than just what I’ve been able to list in this article and I am sure it will stand up to repeat viewings. And it may well have to as Damon Lindelof has stated he doesn’t want to do a second season and HBO aren’t going to do it without him, So you have just one practically perfect season to enjoy.

Also Read: Why James Cameron’s Avatar Sequel Has Come At The Right Time

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