Set in 1970s Harlem, the film traces the devastating effects of a man being arrested for a rape he did not commit on his immediate family. Its emotional pull is made all the more real because despite being set in a different period, the story line could be lifted from any newspaper in 2019.
Regina King is having a moment. After sweeping three Emmy Award wins for her show-stopping performances in American Crime and Seven Seconds, Regina is riding the 2019 award season buzz after claiming her first Golden Globe for her heartbreaking role in If Beale Street Could Talk.
Ahead of the Oscars, where Regina is tipped to take home the Best Supporting Actress award, we sit down with the actress who first came to our attention as Sandra Bullock’s body guard in Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous. Here, Regina openly talks about the racial injustices that still affect her family and discusses the need for women to recognise the positive power men can have alongside the sisterhood…
As the mother of a son, did this storyline of criminal injustice take on a whole new level?
To be honest, that’s the way it’s always been as a black mother with a black son. Every single day you have a little bit of fear when your child is going out and they’re not in your control anymore. When I was teaching my son how to drive, one of my dearest friends – who has a son the same age as mine – got so emotional when I was explaining to her that I have to tell my son what to do if he gets pulled over as that’s something that’s never occurred to her. Her fear was just him getting into an accident.
Sure, I’m concerned about my kid getting into an accident but what was really more on my mind was if Ian comes home because he wasn’t involved in something terrible because of some violent police episode. The black American experience is much different to the white American experience. That’s one of the beautiful things about Beale Street so often we hear stories as a quick newsflash, and you can quickly judge someone as a criminal and you don’t look at the human. Within all of that, you still watch this film and you can relate to how love can get you through trauma no matter what race you are, no matter what sex you are. I think that’s why when people see this film the thing that I hear most is they feel like they’ve had an awakening and I think that’s because love is universal.
So many people believe that discrimination doesn’t exist anymore and that is so damaging to live in a bubble…
It makes your heart beat fast when people make statements like that. This is the problem that people are in a bubble and they think if they are not experiencing it then it doesn’t exist. It’s the mentality of: ‘if it’s not in my little bubble, it doesn’t exist!’ It’s just so dangerous.
If Beale Street Could Talk puts the power of everyday women on screen, how did you tap into those motherly feelings?
It is always there. My character, Sharon, is very similar to my mother and my grandmother in that they could fix everything. She’s a fixer and it’s just heartbreaking to see her in those moments when they just don’t think they can do it, but they have to. When she makes it to Puerto Rico, you see her in her own struggle and what shows up at that point is the strength of women. You get to see the layers to Sharon – she is not just one thing. She is always strong, but you see the vulnerability, too. The best characters are layered.
The film is ultimately about overcoming impossibility. What impossibilities have you had to overcome?
When I was younger, I was guilty – which probably a lot of kids are – of comparing myself to other people. Wishing my breasts were developing when they weren’t and all those things that get in your head. I was doing a number on myself. When I started acting, taking acting lessons, doing theatre and plays, that helped me as I was able to channel that negative, pointless energy into my art. I was lucky that I discovered what I wanted to do early on and what I wanted to put my energy towards, what I wanted to nurture. A lot of people don’t get to that place until their college years, if ever. The impossibilities where something I created for myself. If there were more, I am so far away from it I don’t really remember.
You seem like such a positive person…
That’s how my sister and I were raised. We grew up going to the church of religious science – not to be mistaken for scientology – with the agape philosophy so you don’t speak about god in the masculine or feminine. Mind and spirit are aligned, fear and love are treated as equal energies and the difference is positive and negative. All of these things are what my foundation was, so I think that it’s been who I am all my life.
By seeing god as non-gendered, do you think that has influenced your strength as a woman?
Now that you’ve said that, yes! I don’t think I’ve ever thought about it but yes absolutely because today I was speaking to someone and I don’t know why but I referenced God as a he and I was like, ‘oh my god, I never do that!’ My sister and I have never referenced god as a he and I think you give more power to something if it’s a human as opposed to spirit and universe. It also goes into that category of, ‘if a man speaks his mind, he’s a boss and if a woman does it, she’s a bitch!’
I love the power of sisterhood in this film. How amazing has the sisterhood been for you in your life?
I’ve always felt the power of women and the power we posses as a collective. But I have to be honest and say my experiences have been a village of supportive people – men, women, different colours, different ages – and I know that’s very unique. To say as a 48-year-old female black women that I’ve got so many opportunities and so much encouragement from white men as much as I have from women, is very interesting.
There’s this wonderful all-inclusive sisterhood happening right now that’s exciting. It’s so great to be a part of but I do have to recognise all the people who have instrumental in my trajectory. It’s an incredible thing to sit here and say that. But even with that I have recognised and seen how we, as women, would not have gotten further without the support of each other.
Don’t get me wrong, I have had experiences where men have not been supportive but the majority of experiences in my life have been of supportive people. But I know for women so often, all we’ve had is each other and in Beale Street it shows it’s just important for us to protect that. When you see Sharon talking to the female accuser, she’s trying to be delicate because she does know that this woman has been violated but she has to free her son-in-law. How do you do that? How do you protect the spirit of this woman and still save your son? We as women, we are always sensitive to each other’s hidden pain that we don’t speak about, the pain we push down. That’s why I think this time is so exciting because women are speaking out and releasing things that have been haunting them forever.
‘If Beale Street Could Talk’ is in cinemas now