Regina King's Extraordinary 2020, from Making Film Festival History to Fierce Advocacy Efforts

She Urged People Not to Become Complacent on Social Justice Issues

Regina King, 49, has been a beacon of inspiration throughout her career, as a gifted actress and an outspoken advocate for marginalized communities. This summer, during worldwide outrage and protests following the death of George Floyd, the star used her platform to speak up about racial injustices and police brutality. She also opened up about having to have difficult conversations at home with her son Ian Alexander, Jr., 24, on how to interact with police as a young Black man.

As the country faced more division and witnessed the tragic losses of more Black lives — Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain and many others — King has remained steadfast in her plea for everyone to remain engaged in the fight against racism and is still cautiously optimistic about the future. 

“I do believe in the good of humanity,” King tells PEOPLE. “And I want us to be on the other side of us coming together as humankind. But we cannot become complacent. We still have to fight. We’re going to get more scraped knuckles and skinned knees. But after those wounds heal, we’ll have the beauty in the bruises.”

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She Spoke Up for Marginalized Communities Being Disproportionately Affected By the Pandemic

The Oscar winner has been working hard toward helping Black and Latinx communities amid the COVID-19 pandemic, as they have been disproportionately hit by the virus — an issue King told PEOPLE in August that she felt “personally connected” to.

Ready to take action, King partnered with Vaseline and the humanitarian aid organization Direct Relief to not only draw awareness to the issue, but also help those who need it most.

“We were actually kind of trying to figure out those things before COVID hit, and before the most recent events that took place with police brutality, and we were trying to figure out what that was going to be,” she said. “And then these two things happened and it kind of became obvious to us as partners that there was nothing else bigger or more important than speaking about the systemic differences for marginalized people.”

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She Made History at the Venice Film Festival

King’s directorial debut One Night in Miami became the first film directed by a Black woman to be selected to premiere at the Venice Film Festival in the fest’s 88-year history.

Speaking in a press conference via Zoom at the festival in September, the star touched on the importance of the film and the impact it can have on uplifting marginalized voices. She also noted the negative repercussions her experience could have should the film fail.

“Unfortunately, across the world, that’s how things seem to work. One woman gets a shot and if she does not succeed, it shuts thing down for years until someone else gets a shot,” she said, according to Variety.

“I am so grateful for our film to be a part of the festival but I really, really want it to perform well. There’s so much talent out there — so many talented directors — so if One Night in Miami gets it done here, you’ll get to see a lot more of us,” she added.

One Night in Miami stars Kingsley Ben-Adir as Malcolm X, Aldis Hodge as Jim Brown, Eli Goree as boxer Cassius Clay, and Leslie Odom Jr. as Sam Cooke. It will be released on Amazon Prime Video on Jan. 15, 2021.

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King Joined Sanaa Lathan, Tracee Ellis Ross & Alfre Woodard for an All-Black Golden Girls

Months after Golden Girls was criticized for a blackface reference in an early episode, some celebs decided to bring back the show — this time with an all-Black cast.

Ross starred as Rose, King as Dorothy, Woodard as Sophia and Lathan as Blanche. The beloved roles were originally filled by Betty White, Bea Arthur, Estelle Getty and Rue McClanahan.

The reimagined sitcom, directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood and hosted by Lena Waithe, streamed in conjunction with a virtual watch party on Zoom in September. The first episode also put a spotlight Color of Change, the largest online racial justice organization in the nation.

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She Thanked Her Mom for Helping Her Navigate Her Child Star Years

King has been famous for more than three decades, since landing a starring role as Brenda Jenkins on the popular 1980s sitcom 227 at the age of 14. At 49, the actress has racked up an Oscar, several Emmy Awards and directed her first feature film. For King, the road has been a long one, but she credits her mom Gloria for keeping her grounded from the start.

“My mom told NBC that if I was going to play Brenda, I wasn’t going to one of those Hollywood private schools. I was staying in public school,” she told PEOPLE in September.

The actress is grateful her mother made that decision and said it helped her later in life.

“It was instrumental in me becoming a person who can find balance on shaky ground. It’s not an easy thing, living your life on display, and it’s particularly hard when you’re young,” she continued. “But participating in those social situations as a teen gave me an understanding to how different people can be, which has been very helpful when navigating Hollywood.”

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King and the HBO Series Watchmen Dominated the 2020 Emmy Awards

The series, which premiered in October 2019, came into the night with a total of 26 nominations — the most of any show this year.

King, who plays Angela Abar, won outstanding lead actress in a limited series, and shouted out the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg in her speech.

“Gotta vote. I would be remiss not to mention that, being a part of a show as prescient as Watchmen,” said King. “Have a voting plan, go to ballotpedia.com, vote up the ballot, please. … it is very important. Be a good human. Rest in power RBG. Thank you.”

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II won outstanding supporting actor in a limited series for his pivotal role as Cal Abar. Watchmen was also recognized for its writers Damon Lindelof and Cord Jefferson, and took home the prize for outstanding limited series.

Inspired by the 1987 graphic novel of the same name, Watchmen explores an alternate reality where masked vigilantes are hunted as criminals in a gritty narrative that tackles issues of terrorism, police brutality and racism.

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She Also Used Fashion to Bring Light to the Black Lives Matter Movement

Instead of wearing a glamorous gown or comfortable pajamas to the virtual Emmys, King honored Breonna Taylor, the 26-year-old Black woman who was fatally shot by police in a raid of her apartment in an incident that sparked widespread protests, by wearing a Phenomenal Woman T-shirt emblazoned with Taylor’s face across the front. Across the top of the shirt read the phrase, “SAY HER NAME,” in all capital letters.

King topped off the statement-making shirt (all profits benefit the Breonna Taylor Foundation) with a hot pink pantsuit by Schiaparelli.

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She Auctioned Off Her Emmys Looks to Benefit the Girls Opportunity Alliance

After a huge night at the Emmys, King teamed up with Schiaparelli Couture House and Christie’s to auction off her ensembles for a very special cause.

From Oct. 23 to Oct. 30, Christie’s hosted an online sale of King’s two Schiaparelli Emmys looks, designed by artistic director Daniel Roseberry. All the proceeds went directly to the Obama Foundation’s Girls Opportunity Alliance, which seeks to empower adolescent girls through education.

“Working with Schiaparelli has been very gratifying. They are a historic brand that represents class and a positive work ethic which are the same values I try to live by,” King said. “Supporting the Obama Foundation’s Girls Opportunity Alliance is another example of why working with Schiaparelli has been so rewarding.”

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Watch the full episode of People of the Year: Regina King streaming now on PeopleTV.com, or download the PeopleTV app on your favorite device. And pick up PEOPLE’s year-end double issue — featuring King’s fellow People of the Year George Clooney, Dr. Anthony Fauci and Selena Gomez — on newsstands Friday.

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