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Our Queen, Regina King: “I Am Making A Vow”

Reigning powerfully, even through pain, the child star we’ve watched mature to Hollywood royalty delivers on a mission that matters to Black women.

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photo collage of regina king in the middle of pink flowers
Natasha Cunningham (Getty Images, 4)
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What is your favorite show or movie featuring Regina King? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Regina King has a quietly powerful presence, something that permeates her portrayals of strong-willed yet vulnerable characters who are marginalized because of their race and gender. We can't forget her award-winning turn as Sharon Rivers, a mother trying to exonerate her pregnant teen daughter’s boyfriend in If Beale Street Could Talk . We loved watching her chewing up scenes as outlaw Trudy Smith in the Netflix Western The Harder They Fall and as Tulsa police officer Angela Abar (aka Sister Night) on the limited HBO series Watchmen.

Recently King channeled pioneering politician Shirley Chisholm in the Netflix biopic Shirley (she also produced the film). Chisholm was an underdog from Brooklyn, New York (her parents were from Barbados) who beat the odds to become the first Black woman to be elected to Congress and the first Black candidate to seek a major party’s nomination for president of the United States.

“Shirley Chisholm’s fearless determination has been an inspiration to so many of us, and with this film we hope to inspire many generations to come,” the actress said in a press statement.

Her portrayal as the “unbought and unbossed” former school teacher garnered critical praise and The Hollywood Reporter noted, “Given King’s success at breathing drama into the lengthy dialectics of her riveting 2020 feature debut behind the camera, One Night in Miami, it seems legitimate to wonder how Shirley would have turned out if she had directed it herself.”

Up next, the King-produced A Man In Full, a six-episode limited series for Netflix (May 2) with Hollywood heavy hitter David E. Kelley (Big Little Lies, Ally McBeal), based on Tom Wolfe’s 1998 novel.

The aforementioned One Night in Miami was King’s film directorial debut about the historic motel meet-up between Cassius Clay (before he became Muhammad Ali), Malcolm X, Sam Cooke and Jim Brown after Clay became the heavyweight champ. This was the first film directed by an African American woman to be selected in the Venice Film Festival’s history.

Up next, the King-produced A Man In Full, a six-episode limited series for Netflix (May 2) with Hollywood heavy hitter David E. Kelley (Big Little Lies, Ally McBeal), based on Tom Wolfe’s 1998 novel.

“For me, life has been a series of breakthrough moments,” she told People Magazine. “I pray that never ends."

From child star to compelling character actress 

We’ve had a front row seat to witness her evolution as an actress. King got her big break with the hit 80s sitcom 227, where she played precocious 14-year-old Brenda Jenkins, daughter of resident snoop Mary Jenkins (played to perfection by Marla Gibbs).

Back then King’s character Brenda only had hazel eyes for her neighbor, Calvin. But now, the 53-year-old is our girl crush – giving us effortlessly glamorous red-carpet fashions and fitness goals with her enviably toned physique.

“I told [Regina] recently, “How do you expect me to catch up with you?” She’s just marvelous. I knew it, and everybody knows it now,” Gibbs told The Hollywood Reporter.

After 227, King blossomed into young womanhood with sassy supporting roles in a trio of John Singleton films – Boyz N the Hood (1991), Poetic Justice (1993), and Higher Learning (1995).

As she matured, we took notice of her as Cuba Gooding Jr.’s no-nonsense football wife in Jerry Maguire(1996) and opposite Jamie Foxx as scorned lover and backup singer Margie Hendricks in the award-winning 2004 biopic, Ray (2004). In 2005 she had great comedic chemistry with co-star Sandra Bullock as fiery F.B.I. Agent Sam Fuller in Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous. And let's not forget she was the voice of brazen brothers Huey and Riley Freeman on the controversial animated series The Boondocks (2005 - 2014).

Actress Regina Hall said in an interview she is often mistaken for her friend. “[The mistake] happens a lot! Years ago, I got a layout in a magazine…The magazine said it was using a picture of me in a bright red dress. I’m thinking, I wonder when I wore a bright red dress? Then there was the layout — of Regina King. She and I laugh about it. Regina, it’s a good thing I love you.”

Try a little tenderness

The Los Angeles native’s career has really kicked into a higher gear in her grown and sexy era. She won an Academy Award in 2019, at age 48, for best supporting actress in If Beale Street Could Talk, based on the James Baldwin novel of the same name.

In her stunning, sculptural ivory Oscar de la Renta gown, she tearfully thanked her mother Gloria, whom she brought as her date, in her moving acceptance speech.

“It’s appropriate for me to be standing here because I’m an example of when support and love is poured into someone,” she said.

“Mom, I love you so much. Thank you for teaching me that God has always been leaning in my direction.”

On the heels of her Oscar win, King picked up her fourth Primetime Emmy in 2020 for outstanding lead actress in a limited series or movie for Watchmen. In that groundbreaking HBO miniseries, she played the show’s aforementioned protagonist Angela Abar, and through that character she centered the Black female experience.

“With Angela, I asked: What is she doing to make sure she’s being loved on? And what is she not doing? She has created this little protective bubble that is always in jeopardy of being burst. A lot of people can relate to that, but it’s specifically the experience of a Black woman,” she told the Los Angeles Times.

The power of love

Despite all of her accolades, King, like many sisters, is no stranger to heartache. Tragically, in January 2022, she lost her only child, 26-year-old son Ian Alexander Jr. to suicide.

King raised Ian as a single mother after her divorce to Ian Alexander Sr. in 2007. The mother and son were so close they had matching tattoos, which read “unconditional love” in Aramaic.

After Ian’s death, King retreated from the spotlight to mourn him, and her resilience resonated with us that it’s okay to prioritize self-care and to show yourself grace during difficult times.

Two years after her son’s passing she spoke exclusively to Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts and acknowledged that she is a different person now that her son is gone.

“Grief is a journey, you know? I understand that grief is love that has no place to go,” she told Roberts.

At the 2024 Academy Awards King wore a stunning Versace gown in orange, Ian’s favorite color.

Be the change you want to see

King admits that she didn’t always have a sense of her personal power.

“There are moments where I feel like when I can look back in life and definitely see that maybe I have more power than I thought I had, and because I didn’t know, I didn’t access it,” she said in an interview.

Now that she is firmly in the driver’s seat of her career, however, she is using her position to employ and to empower other women.

In her acceptance speech at the Golden Globe Awards in 2019, King pledged,  “I’m going to use my platform right now to say, in the next two years, everything that I produce, I am making a vow—and it’s going to be tough—to make sure that everything that I produce, that it’s 50% women.”

We can see the impact of that vow in the full production credits for Shirley on entertainment platform IMDb. Three men and six women are listed as producers. Four of those (Regina King, her sister Reina King, Anika McLaren and Danielle L. Ross) are Black women. Music, editing, casting, production design and costume design are led by women.

That’s power. Just like the unbought and unbossed Chisolm herself, King uses her power to empower others.

King continued, “I just challenge anyone out there who is in a position of power—not just in our industry, in all industries—I challenge you to challenge yourselves and stand with us in solidarity and do the same.”

What is your favorite show or movie featuring Regina King? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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