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'Black Love In All Its Different Ways': Regina King On Her 'Beale Street' Role

Regina King stars as Sharon, the mother of embattled young lover Tish, <em>If Beale Street Could Talk</em>.
Tatum Mangus
Annapurna Pictures
Regina King stars as Sharon, the mother of embattled young lover Tish, If Beale Street Could Talk.

Regina King appears in a new film which brings the searing social commentary of James Baldwin to the screen. If Beale Street Could Talk is based on Baldwin's 1974 novel of the same name.

Beale Streetis the story of two young lovers, Tish and Fonny, and their fight after Fonny is jailed for a crime he didn't commit. The movie is directed by Barry Jenkins — it's his first film since his Oscar-winning Moonlight.

King plays Sharon, the mother of Tish. Her performance in the role just won the prize for best supporting actress at the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards, as well as a nomination for a Golden Globe Award.

We spoke about her role in Beale Street, her evolving career and bringing about change in Hollywood.

Interview Highlights

On what attracted her to theBeale Streetrole

First of all, James Baldwin and Barry Jenkins — it really doesn't get better than that ... as an email in your inbox, you know? Yeah. So after reading the book and the script, I just felt like here was an opportunity to be a part of a piece that displayed black love in all its different ways — in all the nuances that come along with that. And Sharon just seemed to me to be this woman that — she and her husband Joe created this space that no shame lived there. There was no opportunity for shame to exist within their walls.

On the scene where Tish reveals her pregnancy to her mother

It's a special moment because so often in film and TV when a young person has become pregnant, the reaction from the parents — it's always negative. And here you have support. This young girl is about to become a mother, and instead of the family or the mother or the father saying, you know, "what the hell are you doing?" it's embracing her and loving on her. I think that's the reason why that moment sounds quiet when you're watching it. It is quiet — but it's so full.

On if she seeks more complex roles laden with social issues

I don't know how much I'm actively saying, "I just — I've got to find or be a part of a project that has that 'full' feeling." But I will say that I am looking for ... being a part of a story where my character is layered. You know, the complexities of being whatever human you are ... most recently, just being a black woman in America. And the roles that I've played over the past, I'll say, 12 years or so, you know, from Southland on to now, are — they are such different women, but they are all a product of their environment. And that product is not simple. It is complex. ... I feel as I grow as a human being, my capacity to be open to receive roles that are more complex has grown as well.

Onher comment toVarietythat the Netflix seriesSeven Seconds(a show in which she played an Emmy-winning role) "was not a black story," but "an American story"

We all have to take responsibility for, you know, where we are and who we are as a country. And the fact of the matter is: These things that James Baldwin was writing about 40-plus years ago are still the same things that we are talking about now. And it's kind of sad. And we have to understand that race, divisiveness because of skin color, race and colorism are a big part of the fabric of America. And so that's why I felt it was an American story.

On being outspoken about diversity in Hollywood — and then being recognized for her roles in driving change

I think there's a big part of that, that's: Yeah, that is how it's supposed to work, right? But we've just had, unfortunately, more examples or more experiences personally that it hasn't worked that way. You know, there's so often people who have been outspoken about things that are true, that are honest, have lost everything behind doing that, and there are those of us who have seen that happen. So you know, you can't help but be concerned about what may happen if you are open about your feelings or the pain that you are experiencing or have experienced. Because at the end of the day, you know, I'm a mother. I have a family. So me not being able to work affects more than just me.

So yeah, I was concerned about that, but there was something inside that felt like sending — that I was going to be OK, you know. May not win an award, but you'll still continue to work. And now on this side of it I feel like, "Wow, what a blessing." And when you talk about being a role model or setting an example, I feel so lucky that I get to be an amazing example for young women that you can speak your truth respectfully, and still win.

Robert Baldwin III and Gemma Watters produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Patrick Jarenwattananon adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.