Four of our most iconic Black heroes all in one room discuss race, class, religion, music, friendship, and more in Regina King’s film One Night in Miami.
An incredible ensemble piece adapted from the stage play of the same name by playwright Kemp Powers, the story takes real-life historical figures — Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.), Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), and Muhammad Ali (Eli Goree) — and gives a fictionalized account of a meeting one night in a Miami motel room. What takes place in that motel room is where the heart and soul of this story unfolds. We learn about each of these men’s passions, flaws, struggles, and triumphs during this meeting of brilliant minds.
The story begins with Ali’s victory over Sonny Liston. At the time Ali is referred to the general public as Cassius Clay. However, the film shows his trusted friendship with Malcolm X and his first beginnings into the Islamic faith. This fictional account shows Clay showing a bit of restraint and reluctance to embracing the religion to Malcolm’s chagrin.
NFL star Jim Brown enters the story as a football hero visiting the wealthy white benefactor and fan (Beau Bridges) of Brown’s career. Brown is propped up with compliments, pats on the back, and served fresh lemonade upon his visit to the man’s home. The sweet sentiments don’t last, and Brown is delivered a metaphorical punch in the gut as to where his place is when he’s not allowed to enter the man’s home because he’s Black.
Brown has other aspirations of working in the entertainment industry as a movie star, and his colleague, another entertainer on the music end of the spectrum Sam Cooke, has his own battles to deal with. In One Night in Miami, these men pontificate on issues in that very room that inevitably will change the course of American history. From Sam Cooke being inspired to sing one of his greatest ballads of all time, “A Change Is Gonna Come,” to Cassius Clay devoting his faith to Islam and announcing to the world that he’s officially changing his name to Muhammad Ali.
What is brilliant about One Night in Miami is the script. The dialogue cuts you to the core, and there are scenes that will stick with you long after you finish watching. There are heated moments that brew between the men as they challenge one another, like Malcolm and Sam debating who is more “woke” than the other with respect to the struggle.
It is within those moments that scriptwriter Powers captures, although fictionalized, a slice of reality of what kind of conversations you could have expected to hear from these men if you were a fly on a wall. Another provocative moment was between Jim Brown and Malcolm X discussing the issue of colorism in the Black community.
The ensemble performances were impeccable in this extraordinary narrative. Odom’s swagger as Sam Cooke, singing in every perfect key his classic songs, makes you want Odom to do a full feature biopic. Aldis Hodge as Jim Brown shows a quiet strength in the man’s character with such grace. Kingsley Ben-Adir as Malcolm X delivered a magnificent performance as the former leader of the Nation of Islam, illustrating the internal struggles Malcolm was facing while also trying to uplift and empower those around him. Eli Goree as Muhammad Ali gave one of the most standout performances of the ensemble. He didn’t mimic or impersonate the legendary boxer; he embodied him. Goree’s mannerisms, tone, inflection, and scene-stealing moments as Ali are enough in this writer’s opinion to warrant him awards consideration.
In fact, this epic ’60s time capsule of a film deserve awards attention and so much more. It’s a beautiful account of how these men lived in their prime, what they believed in, why they believed in it, and how they used their beliefs to influence others.
Regina King’s One Night In Miami is an impressive mainstream feature film debut. If this is what we can expect from a Regina King movie, then sign me up for the rest of her portfolio.
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Jamie Broadnax is the creator of the online community for Black women called Black Girl Nerds. Jamie has appeared on MSNBC's The Melissa Harris-Perry Show and The Grio's Top 100. Her Twitter personality has been recognized by Shonda Rhimes as one of her favorites to follow. She's the primary film critic for BGN and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critic Association