On April 6, W Magazine’s Volume 2 of the Directors’ Issue hits the stands, offering a trio of covers directed by the industry’s finest. In one of the three covers, Academy Award-winning actor and director Regina King directs a photo essay titled “Black in Americana: A Photo Essay on Love and Pain.” The essay features Oscar, Emmy and Golden Globe-winning actress Viola Davis, her husband, actor and producer Julius Tennon and their 10-year-old daughter, Genesis.
Shot in Los Angeles, the photos capture a poignant rendering of Black American life, unfolding over a weekend. A relaxed Saturday afternoon at home is followed by a night out for the parents and a trip to church the next morning; the photos ultimately encapsulating both the simple joys inherent in Blackness and the looming contradiction that life for Black Americans is to be under the constant threat of pain.
Brooke Marine of W writes: “King began crafting the story months ago by watching old interviews of her friend Davis, in which she could hear ‘the pain as well as the beauty in the bruises’ in her delivery.” The West Adams, Los Angeles neighborhood chosen for the location was home to Black celebrities such as Hattie McDaniel and Little Richard back in the 1940s and ’50s.
King, Davis and Oscar-winning costume designer Ruth E. Carter, who styled the shoot, studied photos by renowned artist Carrie Mae Weems, known for the way she documented Black domestic life in an artistic yet understated way. The clear love shown in “Black in Americana” is followed by the pain—one many Black families might resonate with as they receive a devastating phone call that precedes a trip to a taped-off crime scene.
In terms of the shoot’s styling, Carter looked toward the late Cicely Tyson for inspiration. The fabrics and silhouettes are rich with color and style yet translate as soft and subtle on camera. From an emerald green sweater and skirt set to fur coats and perky polka dots, the vibrance and vintage appeal of the garments are felt throughout.
Genesis, 10, was as excited to sit with King as her industry veteran parents, politely asking the actress/director, “What should I call you?” King responded, “By the end of this, you’ll be calling me Auntie Regina!”
Many would no doubt love to call Regina ‘Auntie’ but Genesis got to make that dream come true.
“Black in Americana: A Photo Essay on Love and Pain” not only gives a subtle nod to photographers and artists of the late ‘40s and ‘50s who highlighted the day-to-day life of Black Americans but strikes a realistic balance between the perception of familial pain and towards a narrative of love.
Regina King’s photo essay is available online and in print on April 6.