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Kemp Powers breaks out with the one-two punch of ‘One Night In Miami’ and ‘Soul’

Kemp Powers cowrote and codirected the Pixar movie "Soul" and adapted his play for the film "One Night in Miami."
Kemp Powers cowrote and codirected the Pixar movie “Soul” and adapted his play for the film “One Night in Miami.”
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

Hello! I’m Mark Olsen and welcome to our first 2021 edition of the newsletter companion to “The Envelope: The Podcast,” where my cohost Yvonne Villarreal and I bring you highlights from each week’s episode.

As pieces looking back on 2020 give way to thinking about what’s ahead for 2021, Ashley Lee wrote a thoughtful essay on the relationship between the theater world and Hollywood and what one owes the other.

Countless projects have roots in theater, whether it be adaptations of stage pieces like “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” or pinching performers with roots in the theater.

And now, Lee proposes, it is time for Hollywood to give back, to find ways to support the institutions of the theater at a time when many of them are struggling. As she writes, “if Hollywood is going to continue reaping the creative benefits of the theater — the actors’ training, the ambitious storytelling, the characters fleshed out over countless rewrites — it bears an obligation, artistic and moral, to assist the theater in its time of need.”

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Which aside from being a meaningful sentiment on its own, is also a great setup for the guest on this week’s episode of “The Envelope” podcast. Kemp Powers wrote the screen adaptation of his own play, “One Night In Miami” which is brought to the screen by Regina King in her feature film debut as a director. Starring Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge and Leslie Odom Jr., the film tells the story of the night that Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown and Sam Cooke spent together in a Miami hotel room in 1964. (This really happened.)

Eli Goree, left, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Aldis Hodge and Leslie Odom Jr. star in "One Night in Miami."
Eli Goree, left, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Aldis Hodge and Leslie Odom Jr. star in “One Night in Miami.”
(Amazon Studios)

Powers is also the cowriter and codirector of the animated film “Soul,” the first Pixar project to focus on a Black lead character. On the rather remarkable year he is having with two projects coming out so close together, Powers said, “That wasn’t the plan. The world we’re living in has plans of its own.”

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The two projects overlapped production for about five weeks, which found Powers flying back and forth between Oakland and New Orleans.

“This was like your two dream projects happening at the same time,” he said. “I was like, ‘I’m going to make it work or die trying, and I’m never doing this again.’ I was like, ‘I’ll never pull double duty like this ever again because of how hard it is. But if we pull both of these films off, it will have been worth it.’”

A scene from the animated film "Soul."
A scene from the animated film “Soul.”
(Pixar)

Thanks for reading/listening/subscribing. We have lots more to come. Upcoming guests include Radha Blank for “The Forty-Year-Old Version,” Hugh Grant for “The Undoing” and Lee Isaac Chung for “Minari.”

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