One Night in Miami

Director: Regina King
Screenplay: Kemp Powers (based on his play)
Stars: Kingsley Ben-Adir (Malcolm X), Eli Goree (Cassius Clay), Aldis Hodge (Jim Brown), Leslie Odom Jr. (Sam Cooke), Lance Reddick (Kareem X), Christian Magby (Jamaal), Joaquina Kalukango (Betty X), Nicolette Robinson (Barbara Cooke), Michael Imperioli (Angelo Dundee), Lawrence Gilliard Jr. ( Drew “Bundini” Brown), Derek Roberts (Jerome X), Beau Bridges (Mr. Carlton)
MPAA Rating: R
Year of Release: 2020
Country: U.S.
One Night in Miami
One Night in Miami

History tells us that, on the night of February 25, 1964, four famous black men—the Nation of Islam minister Malcolm X, heavyweight champion Cassius Clay, NFL running back Jim Brown, and singer and record label owner Sam Cooke—spent several hours together in a room at the Hampton House Motel in Miami following Clay’s long-shot victory in the ring over previous champion Sonny Liston. It is a curious historical footnote that gets mention in the biographies of all four men, but what, exactly, was said in the room has been lost to time.

Thus, One Night in Miami, which was adapted by Kemp Powers (Soul) from his own 2013 stageplay and was directed by actress Regina King in an assured debut, is a kind of fictional imagining of what might have gone down among these fascinating men at a pivotal moment in American history. Each of them is at a kind of crossroads: Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) is on the verge of setting aside his pro football career to act in movies; Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) is trying cement his status as a pop singer and record mogul; and Cassius Clay (Eli Goree) is about to announce his becoming a Muslim and taking on the name Muhammad Ali, a move he is making under the careful guidance of Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), who is in the midst of breaking his long relationship with controversial Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad over the latter’s sexual indiscretions.

History tells us that two of these four men—Malcolm X and Sam Cooke—will be dead in less than a year, which makes their interactions all the more poignant and meaningful. Bed-Adir, Goree, Hodge, and Odom Jr. all turn in fantastic performances, breathing genuine, messy life into their well-known historical characters in a way that rips them out of the history books and reminds us that they were first and foremost human beings with hopes, dreams, and flaws. The Civil Rights Movement is always present in the background, and much of their conversation revolves around race and how each of them deals with being a black man in America. In her direction, King keeps the film fairly simple, focusing our attention on the dynamic interplay among the men and trusting that it will overcome any inherent staginess held over from the film’s origins in the theatre.

Although each of the main characters is an icon—artistic, athletic, political, spiritual, or some combination—One Night in Miami seeks to go beyond the iconography and explore them as ambitious, talented black men searching for their place in the world. Although they were all friends (hence their winding up in that hotel room together), they were also of significantly different temperaments and world views, and part of the film’s fascination is the friction those differences generate while never detracting from their fundamental respect and admiration for each other. In such politically troubled times, where it seems that any political disagreement creates an unbreachable interpersonal rift, One Night in Miami shows the beauty of productive disagreement and dissent.

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Overall Rating: (3)

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