Since its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival last month, critics have been singing the praises for “One Night in Miami,” Regina King‘s feature directorial debut. The movie is scheduled to be released in select theaters on Christmas Day before debuting on Amazon Prime Video on Jan. 15. As of this writing, King is widely predicted to follow up her Oscar-winning performance in 2018’s “If Beale Street Could Talk” with a Best Director nomination, sitting in third place in our early odds.
Based on Kemp Powers‘ 2013 play of the same name, the film tells a fictionalized account of the night Cassius Clay (Eli Goree) defeated Sonny Liston (Aaron D. Alexander) for the heavyweight title in February 1964, after which Clay gathers in a Miami hotel room with Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) and Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom, Jr.). The group celebrates the soon-to-be Muhammad Ali‘s upset victory, as well as their roles in the civil rights movement.
But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, actors-turned-directors have had a mixed track record with the academy. Several of them have prevailed at the Oscars before, including Robert Redford (“Ordinary People,” 1980), Warren Beatty (“Reds,” 1981), Kevin Costner (“Dances with Wolves,” 1990), Clint Eastwood (“Unforgiven,” 1992; “Million Dollar Baby,” 2004), Mel Gibson (“Braveheart,” 1995) and Ron Howard (“A Beautiful Mind,” 2001).
While several actors have been nominated for Best Director in the past decade, they all ended up as also-rans. Those include Tom McCarthy (“Spotlight,” 2015), Gibson (“Hacksaw Ridge,” 2016), Greta Gerwig (“Lady Bird,” 2017) and Jordan Peele (“Get Out,” 2017). McCarthy and Peele did win Best Original Screenplay in their respective years, but the directors branch can also be quite stingy toward actors-turned-directors.
Paul Newman won a Golden Globe for his directorial debut, “Rachel, Rachel” (1968), which starred his wife, Joanne Woodard, also received a Directors Guild of America Award nomination, but he was overlooked for a Best Director nom by the academy. Barbra Streisand received Best Director bids for “The Prince of Tides” (1991) from the Golden Globes and DGA, but was also snubbed by the Oscars. Four years later, Howard not only reaped a Globe nom for helming “Apollo 13” (1995), but he won the DGA. However, he was shockingly snubbed by the academy while Gibson ended up taking home the gold for “Braveheart.”
Ben Affleck swept every major Best Director precursor for “Argo” (2012) — the Golden Globe, Critics’ Choice, DGA and BAFTA — yet he was left off the list of Oscar nominees. “Argo” still managed to win Best Picture, with Affleck taking home an Oscar as a producer on the film, while Ang Lee won Best Director for “Life of Pi.” Most recently, Bradley Cooper‘s directorial debut “A Star Is Born” was a big hit with both critics and audiences alike, becoming an early front-runner, with Cooper receiving Best Director bids from the Golden Globes, Critics’ Choice, DGA and BAFTA. Yet, despite getting recognized in the categories of Best Picture (as a producer on the film), Best Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay, the directing branch snubbed him entirely.
While King could potentially benefit from the prospect of becoming the first woman of color to receive a directing Oscar nomination, Chloe Zhao has more heat with the current Best Picture front-runner, “Nomadland,” and sits in first in our directing odds. And while the academy has made efforts in recent years to diversify its membership, it’s historically been very difficult to get more than one person of color and/or a woman in the directing lineup. Only six Black directors have ever been shortlisted, and just five women have.
Plus, for movies like “One Night in Miami” that might be seen more as “filmed stage plays,” even if that’s not accurate, they don’t usually land directing nods unless they turn out to be top-tier contenders. Just ask fellow African-American actor-turned-director Denzel Washington, who didn’t receive a directing nomination for his work on 2016’s “Fences.”
But if there’s anyone who could buck this trend, it may just be the woman who won four Emmys and an Oscar in six years.
PREDICT the 2021 Oscar nominations through March 15
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