One night in Miami Director Regina King has said that she has no problem with British actors playing iconic American characters as long as they invest in the role.
Speaking at a BAFTA Masterclass in London last night (January 12), King said: “If I was moved by a performance, I really don’t care where a person is from.
Referring to British actor Kingsley Ben-Adir, who plays Malcolm X in his directorial debut, and Canadian actor Eli Goree, who plays a young Muhammad Ali, King explained:
“As a member of the audience, for me, they really understood what they were doing, what they embodied. After Kingsley’s first audition, I wanted to give him some notes. I just wanted to talk to him and get to know him and find out what his relationship was like with Malcolm. He said all the things I needed to hear him and I think it’s a shame that’s where we are at.
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In recent years, British actors David Oyelowo, Cynthia Erivo and Daniel Kaluuya have played civil rights icons Martin Luther King Jr, Harriet Tubman and Fred Hampton respectively. Some in Hollywood have questioned whether non-American actors should get such roles. Others have noted that American actors often play iconic foreign characters.
King continued last night: “One of the things that I have really understood or discovered throughout this process of One night in Miami, the first time I got this and read this, did I think, “Wow, Kemp, this is just a love letter to the black man experience in America.” But then, take a step back and really embrace marginalized people around the world. There are feelings and experiences that black people in UK, Brazil have that are the same as in America. Although the story of the creation of a country may be different, the marginalization of a black man is the same, the colorism is the same in all of these places.
“Kingsley was the best actor for this role and Eli was the best actor for this role. Of course, none of them are American. But can they relate to the experience and pain that a black person feels for being ignored simply because of the color of your skin? Absolutely, they can. Can they take it upon themselves to make sure they educate themselves on how it is specific to America in the history of how black Americans built this country it was built on the bodies black Americans? They can certainly find out about it and they have. I wouldn’t change my choices for anyone.
The debate over who should be allowed to play is certainly alive and well.
One night at Miami, which debuted at the Venice Film Festival last year and is available on Amazon Prime, traces a true encounter in the segregated South between Cassius Clay (Gorée), Malcolm X (Ben-Adir), Sam Cooke ( Leslie Odom Jr) and Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge).
The timely civil rights drama was born with playwright and screenwriter Kemp Powers (Soul), whose play of the same name imagined the heated conversation between the men that night.
We spoke to King shortly after the film’s Venice debut.