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Regina King on the Inspiration For her Oscar Winning Performance

When Regina King scooped up her Best Supporting Actress Oscar on Sunday, her voice cracked as she thanked her mom sitting in the audience. Then, backstage, she told press a lot of the character of Sharon Rivers in If Beale Street Could Talk was “mapped or inspired” by her grandmother and her mom. 

“My mom was like the lighthouse right there,” she said of looking into the Oscars audience and seeing her.

The theme of the film, which was based on the James Baldwin novel of the same name, was love, King said. And love wins, no matter what your experience.

“I think it’s a film that breaks through a lot of the sections that exist right now,” she said. “Love is that thing that pushes us through trauma.” And what does she think the legendary Baldwin would think if he could see her now? 

“One word,” King said. “Something that he would say often: Amen.”

King's character Sharon is the mother of a young woman called Tish (KiKi Layne), whose love for her boyfriend Fonny (Stephan James) perseveres when he is falsely accused of rape.

“This is an urban tragedy,” King said, “but tragedy is something that’s experienced no matter what sex you are, no matter what race you are…this film is so needed right now. We’re different in a lot of ways. Absolutely, our cultures are very different, but to the core we’re really a lot alike.”

She added that the #MeToo movement has created “opportunities for women to find their voice,” and not just when it comes to the kinds of physical violation discussed in the film. “Even beyond being violated sexually,” she said, “being marginalized, being violated when you have put in the work to be at the table, and being denied a seat at the table—this movement has allowed us and inspired us to say, ‘No, I deserve to have a seat at the table.’”

That energy was there in the production of the film, King said. Screenwriter and director Barry Jenkins “supported that and lifted it up as well, and when you have men and women working together, pretty amazing things happen.”

Referring to Hattie McDaniel, the first African American woman to win an Oscar ever for her supporting role in the 1939 film Gone With the Wind, King said, “When Hattie McDaniel won, she didn’t win just because black people voted for her—she won because she gave an amazing performance. Especially then, the Academy was not as reflective as it is now. We’re still trying to get more reflective. We’re still trying to get there.”

But King has not only felt inspired by the women who came before her, but hopes to inspire more young women coming up in future. “I feel like I’ve had so many women that have paved the way, and I feel like I walk in their light, and I’m also creating my own light,” she said.

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