It’s December during the Depression-era when Homer Hobbs (Beckford) is released from jail, after serving a two-year stint for stealing to feed his family.
After unsuccessfully trying to track down his mother, he ends up at a local boarding house run by a widow called Gracie (Whitfield). It’s where he befriends the other tenants, striking up a poignant relationship with Clarence (Glynn Turman), the enigmatic alcoholic. Together, the two men compete to perform in a weekly contest to be crowned “king of the evening” for the town’s black community.
A quaint Depression era timepiece, it illuminates the lives of four strangers at a boarding house who find hope, dignity and a chance at a new life. Soundly made by a cast, which includes Linara Washington (“ER”), who plays a seamstress with a sordid past struggling to keep a low paid factory job, “Kings” is a great period piece with good direction and equally decent cinematography.
It’s not an original tale and not a lot happens on the action level, but there's tremendous psychological movement. The characters are real and relatable and the camaraderie is infectious. With a title that refers to a weekly fashion ceremony where the black men dress up and parade in a contest that offers many small consolation prizes, director Andrew P. Jones successfully creates a somber story about love, loss, anger and optimism.
Former model Beckford can almost be forgiven for his lackluster acting skills, for what he lacks in the acting division he makes up for with a magnetic screen presence. Paired with Whitfield (“The Josephine Baker Story”), whose tremendous body of work has made her a screen gem, “Kings” is a work of heart and soul.
Beginning with Homer’s release from jail, to his kinship with his fellow tenants, who include the flashy hustler Benny (Dorsey), Jones gives a masterful snapshot of the somber life of African Americans during the Great Depression when any job, even an illegal one, was cherished.
Particularly poignant is when Whitfield’s character tries to teach Clarence how to walk to enable him to win the fashion contest. “You’re walking like you just ate a sack of rocks!” she scolds. “You gotta walk like you know where you’re going!” Thus, this significance of having dignity despite not having a dime is the message which weaves through this drama which is also co- executive produced by Beckford.