Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Regina King Is Hollywood Royalty

Her onscreen artistry is magnetic. In her recent victory in which she struck Hollywood gold there is evidence of a philosophy I've long held and have written about here several times -- that a gifted artist can be a young person's bridge to more fine arts and artists. Her recent victory touched my heart in a way I didn't expect it would.
Regina King has been in the acting game since the 1980s. You may remember her from the sitcom 227. Her film roles in 1991's BOYZ n the HOOD and 1993's POETIC JUSTICE, both directed by John Singleton, followed. She was a standout in JERRY MAGUIRE and I would've given her a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for her dramatic fierceness in RAY, the 2004 biopic starring Jamie Foxx. By 1996's JERRY MAGUIRE, Regina King had a devoted fan in me. Her talent, her versatility just zapped my senses like a shot of sweet electricity. One of my favorite Regina King performances is in the 2007 indie comedy/drama YEAR OF THE DOG. She is downright delightful as the best friend to a 40-something lonely secretary who pays more attention to dogs because men have been so disappointing. Molly Shannon, formerly of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, starred in that loopy and touching comedy. Next, it was hard for me to believe that Regina King did not get an Emmy nomination for her dynamic work as Detective Lydia Adams on the NBC cop series, SouthLAnd.  Regina King's realness in the role had such depth, you would've thought she'd actually been a detective in Los Angeles who quit the force to pursue an acting career. Det. Lydia Adams was a no-nonsense, highly respected professional. In her home life, she's primary caregiver to a needy parent. This was a well-written, dimensional role and Regina King hit it out of the park. The series ran from 2009 to 2013. Sunday night, Regina King got a standing ovation when her name was announced as winner of the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Her proud mother was in the audience.
Regina King's mother cried.  I had tears in my eyes. I admit it. I cried during the actress' acceptance speech. I cried more than once. I was unprepared for and I was surprised by all the tender emotions her victory brought up in me. She filled me with a pride that made my skin tingle.

I grew up in Los Angeles. I'd falling madly in love with the movies, especially classic films, by the time I was learning how to read in elementary school. In high school and in college, I would write to the Academy for information and the Academy always responded. In college, my roommate and dorm floormates sweetly joshed me about getting an Academy printout of the Oscar nominees per request in the mail. In movies and on TV, I looked for representations of myself. I read A TALE OF TWO CITIES by Charles Dickens, not because it was assigned to me in school. I read A TALE OF TWO CITIES because of James Baldwin. The local PBS station aired an interview of the renowned Black writer. In it, he passionately expressed is love for the Charles Dickens classic. In Baldwin's face, I saw a representation of myself. He inspired me to read the Dickens classic. To this day, it is still one of my favorite books.

I grew up. I pursued a career in the entertainment industry and, throughout my career on television, I've been constantly jabbed with the reminder that American is a tale of two cities -- the haves and the have-nots. The privileged and the underprivileged. I wanted to become an actor. If I couldn't do that, I'd work on TV. I'd show that Black people could also cover entertainment and interviews celebrities as well as Dick Cavett, Merv Griffin, Johnny Carson and David Frost did. Not only that, I'd help put a spotlight on actors and filmmakers of color because they needed it. By the 1980s, a decade in which I was a talk show on national TV, I knew the frustrating color walls Black artists had to crash through in order to succeed.  Hollywood did not feel that stories about Black people, stories with Black actors in the lead roles, were marketable. Nor were screenplay adaptations of great works by Black writers.

Black filmmakers had it tougher than white filmmakers. They had to hustle to get their films made. If they got them made, they weren't given the same promotional budget that white filmmakers got. With little help to promote the product, if their film played overseas to a small audience, Hollywood used that to repeat "Black stories don't sell." We Black folks in the broadcast profession who covered entertainment news were aware of that Hollywood inequality. Many of us pushed within our own workplace to book interviews of Black talent to help with the lack of promotion. But we, too, were smacked in the face by color walls built by network Caucasity. When I worked on local TV news programs in the 90s, I was repeatedly told by white producers that Black talents, known and unknown, were not really of interest to the audience. Or, if I did interview them, the interview was not promoted in TV spots for the show. Some of those known talents were Patti LaBelle, singer Dianne Reeves, actress Pam Grier and, in 1997, Spike Lee.
When Regina King was declared winner of the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK, I let out a cheer in the living room. As she spoke, tears started cascading down my face. I posted a message of joy on Twitter. An African American actress had just won an Oscar for her outstanding work in film with a screenplay by an Oscar-winning African American writer/director, Barry Jenkins of MOONLIGHT, and the screenplay was the first one ever based on a book by the acclaimed African American writer, James Baldwin.

That happened during Black History Month. I could not stop crying.

Regina King mentioned the late, great James Baldwin in her acceptance speech. Charles P. Pierce, a top writer for ESQUIRE, answered my Twitter post with  "And a whole lot of youngsters are googling 'James Baldwin.' now." Charlie was on my dorm floor in college. He's fully aware of my long and deep love for the movies.

I love the work of Regina King. It thrills me to think she, in her Oscar victory, may be the bridge for some young people to the art of James Baldwin in a way that Baldwin was my bridge to the classic literature of Charles Dickens as well as Baldwin's own. Brava, Regina King!

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