Did you hear it? When 48-year-old Regina King slid her beautifully sculpted black-woman leg from under the slit of her crisp, white Oscar de la Renta gown to stand perfectly still in her #glow on the red carpet? When she waved and steepled her hands in prayer with a slight bow to (off-camera) people she knew? The earth moved. The earth moved for Regina King.
Fans, family and friends have supported King since her 1985 debut as a teen actress in the television sitcom 227 as Brenda Jenkins, then in her classic cameo in Boyz in the Hood in 1991 and, of course, in her role as best friend to Janet Jackson in 1993 film Poetic Justice. All this, before her Feb. 24 triumphant win at the Oscars for Best Supporting Actress for her harrowing performance in Barry Jenkins’ film adaptation of James Baldwin’s 1974 novel, If Beale Street Could Talk. King plays Sharon Rivers, the mother of Tish, her lovestruck, pregnant daughter in love with Fonny, the boyfriend framed and jailed for a crime he did not commit.
For the love of her daughter and unborn grandson, King’s character not only confronts Fonny’s harsh, Bible-thumping mother but travels to Puerto Rico in a futile attempt to get a confession from Victoria Rogers, the woman who lied about Fonny raping her. This scene in the shadowy alley, where Sharon attempts to convince Victoria to do the right thing, is every mother’s nightmare. King channels this universal mother’s instinct to help her child to be happy at all costs.
For years, as Hollywood slept on brown girls, critics have been watching King’s consistent and steady rise, praising her chops as she stole movies from the likes of Tom Cruise (Jerry Maguire), Will Smith (Enemy of the State) and Sandra Bullock (Miss Congeniality 2). But King’s performance in the 2004 Ray Charles biopic Ray cracked a hole in the earth. King plays the forlorn Margie Hendricks, a singer and manager who falls unhappily in love with Ray Charles. In several moments, viewers are pulled into Kendricks’ heartache through King’s penetrating eyes and throaty voice: We feel her pain and rejection in every cell of our bodies. King is this good.
Actors know they are lucky to work alongside someone with King’s brilliance and dedication to the craft. Fans anticipate the shine. We know that every time she appears in a movie, TV drama, cameo role or lead, a new level is reached.
And now, Oscar in hand — as Black History Month concludes and International Women's Month commences — the world knows it.
Shonda Buchanan is an award-winning author and educator. Her upcoming memoir, Black Indian, will be out in August.