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Oscar winner Regina King recalled having to possibly push the release of One Night in Miami because she was short a couple scenes when the on-going novel coronavirus pandemic shut down production of her directorial debut.
“We were waiting to see what the climate of the [COVID] world was going to be, and then Ahmaud Arbery happened, and then Breonna Taylor happened and then George Floyd happened and people exploded. We were now in this powder keg moment,” King told a press conference at the Toronto Film Festival on Friday.
So King and her producers arranged a socially-distanced shoot that mostly involved two of her movie’s leads — Eli Goree, who plays a young Cassius Clay before he would become Muhammad Ali, and Leslie Odom Jr. as Sam Cooke — to get One Night in Miami out into the market.
Ahead of its North American debut in Toronto, Amazon Studios picked up One Night in Miami, with plans to release it as an awards contender. Based on the 2013 stage play by Kemp Powers, the movie is set on the night of February 25, 1964, and follows Cassius Clay as he emerges from the Miami Beach Convention Center after defeating Sonny Liston and spends the night at the Hampton House Motel in one of Miami’s historically black neighborhoods, celebrating with three of his closest friends: activist Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), singer Sam Cooke and football star Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge).
The next morning, the four men emerge determined to define a new world for themselves. Before the Toronto screenings, One Night in Miami bowed at Venice, which King added did invite some disappointment after she found out she was the first Black woman director to show a movie at that 88 year-old marquee festival.
“The fact that in 2020, this is a first in a festival (Venice) that’s been happening for over 80 years. I think of so many films directed by Black women directors, I just assumed they were at Venice,” King said.
The director also said it was “bittersweet” to screen One Night in Miami without she and her cast being able to be on the ground in Toronto due to the COVID-19 crisis. “We can’t actually be there with arms together. This would have been our North American debut and sharing this on our soil. There’s a bit of me that feels a little sad about that,” King told the presser.
She added Goree, a Canadian actor, who also appeared remotely for the Friday press conference, could have got “that extra love from where he’s from.” Another anomaly from screening One Night in Miami virtually in Toronto — King and her creative collaborators have yet to see the reaction of a real audience in a physical theater.
“We hoped it would be received well. But nobody knows how it plays in an audience. We’re trusting the feedback from audiences, living vicariously through the audiences,” King said.
The Toronto Film Festival continues through Sept. 19.
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