“Brother, you could move mountains without lifting a finger.”
As we see in today’s news, the police brutality, protests, and demanding of basic human rights, we turn to the stories of old, embracing those who fought for their rights and, in the process, stopped those who would infringe on those demands. One Night in Miami tells the story of the evening, smack dab in the middle of the civil rights movement, the moment when four successful black men gathered in a hotel room.
Based on the play by Kemp Powers, One Night in Miami is a fictional take on the evening when Malcom X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Cassius Clay (Eli Goree), Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), and Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) spent time in a “Blacks only” hotel room to hash things out. On February 25, 1964, after the famous fight between Clay (who we now know as Muhammad Ali) and Sonny Liston, the men adjourn to Malcom X’s room, and begin to speak about their careers, relationships, and the hammer of the 1960s that continues to come down on Black Americans. While it would seem an opportune time to talk about their success, and pat each other on the back, they begin to examine themselves, their roles, and what they should do with their status as celebrities.
One Night in Miami clearly has one of the best ensembles of 2020 — a story not able to be told with one of the characters missing from the narrative. The performances by these men are far beyond a simple impersonation of the figures they play. Instead, it’s a deeper revelation of the historical figures they continue to be. Eli Goree plays Clay. Goree, is “so pretty” as he adds more of the light-hearted quips to break up the monotony of drama. He may play the famous boxer, but it’s Kingsley Ben-Adir that packs the biggest punch. Ben-Adir transforms into the role of Malcolm X, bringing the legendary activist to life. Malcolm and Clay go hand and hand, as it’s Malcolm’s goal to bring more high-ranking celebrities into the world of Islam. As we know now, Malcolm’s quest for people’s conversion would be cut short after being assassinated only one year later. As for Jim Brown and Sam Cooke, well, they have their reservations to the limiting religion. Leslie Odom Jr. has some of the best moments of the film. Including, an incredible moment — a dueling of ideals — with Malcolm.
I would be remiss not mention a major victory for this film being Regina King’s first directorial debut. So many times have we seen women pigeon-holed into directing “movies about women.” Here, King takes on directing a film that is centrally focused on four men. She demonstrates how she can direct even the most complex of storylines. The direction, along with the extraordinary performances from the cast, present a deeply personal look into the lives of these men. Not to mention, it’s rather risky trying to bring to life a story with such high-profile figures.
The film shines a light on the ongoing racism that faces the United States, and the challenge of having basic civil rights. That no matter how successful each one becomes, there’s those instances of never fully being accepted by one’s own country. There’s something profoundly spiritual about One Night in Miami. The intimacy that surrounds these characters, paints a picture of a simple conversation between friends. Malcolm is a towering figure of the civil rights movement of the 1960’s. In the film, he is an inspiration to Cassius’ conversion to Islam. Though it deals with religion, the film never becomes overly preachy, but it doesn’t shy away from the religious beliefs that are displayed.
There’s so much energy within One Night in Miami — so much power within the four men. It’s incredibly haunting the scenes that take place in the confines of that hotel room, as it chisels away at the sheer exterior of the four. And what we are left with, is a personal film about so much more than what’s on the surface. One Night in Miami is an amazing movie that will continue reverberate, through its storytelling, for years to come.
One Night in Miami
Directed by: Regina King
Starring: Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge, and Leslie Odom Jr.