One Night in Miami
The setup of Regina King’s directorial debut, One Night in Miami seems like a dramatic concoction. In one sense it is, as it is adapted from Kemp Powers’ play about about a meeting between Malcolm X, Cassius Clay (the soon to be Muhammad Ali), American football star Jim Brown and Sam Cooke. But the summit at Florida’s Hampton House hotel really did happen.
The majority of the movie focuses on the quartet’s strangely muted post-fight celebrations, as all eschew Miami’s parties hailing Clay as the new champion for a night of discussion about race, as well as their own place in the world and the future. Cooke (Hamilton’s Leslie Odom Jr) and Brown’s (Aldis Hodge) focus on their own careers is set in contrast with Malcolm (Kingsley Ben-Adir) and Clay’s (Eli Goree) desire to win over new converts to Islam and black liberation. What follows is a fascinating rumination on the struggle for civil rights, as well as stars’ personal political responsibilities, that feels as relevant today as it would have in 1964.
Although Powers’ script depicts the four men as icons, merely hinting at real-life human frailties, outstanding performances from the cast make each character three-dimensional. It would have been easy for viewers to feel like they were on a magical history tour, with contrived conversations foreshadowing events they know will happen in the future, but the actors manage to embody each man without impersonating them. It makes one feel like a fly on the wall during a real meeting of minds, rather than one constructed to reflect 2020’s debates about civil rights and the power and responsibilities that come with fame.
Credit for this should also go to King for what is an astonishingly bold choice for a directorial debut. It’s all the more so because she’s understood the need to allow the material to breathe with an understated style. The action rarely leaves the modestly furnished hotel room except for visually striking moments that frame the story at its beginning and end that are well chosen to show just who these men are, what they represent, and the obstacles and difficulties they face.
The result is a film that is laden with historical and contemporary resonance, but not weighed down by it – one where the majority of conversational scenes float by, but whose dramatic moments still sting like Ali’s proverbial bee.
One Night in Miami is released digitally on demand on Amazon Prime on 15th January 2021.
Watch the trailer for One Night in Miami here: