One Night in Miami is the powerful directorial debut by Regina King (Patti Perret/Amazon Studios via AP)
We’ll never know exactly what happened when Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, Cassius Clay (Muhammed Ali) and Jim Brown hung out together in a hotel room in 1964, but Regina King’s One Night In Miami does a wonderful job imagining the conversation.
Based on the stage play of the same name by Kemp Power, the film follows the events that took place on February 25 when young Cassius Clay (Eli Goree) emerged from the Miami Beach Convention Center the new World Heavyweight Boxing Champion.
Against all odds, he defeated Sonny Liston and shocked the sports world. As crowds of people swarm Miami Beach to celebrate the match, Clay is unable to stay on the island because of Jim Crow-era segregation laws.
Instead, he spends the night at the Hampton House Motel in one of Miami’s historically black neighborhoods celebrating with three of his closest friends: activist Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), singer Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.), and football star Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge).
The next morning, the four men emerge determined to define a new world for themselves and their people as the 1960s civil rights movement approaches its peak.
For her directorial debut, King takes the familiar energy of deep and meaningful late-night conversations and channels it into a powerful look at life, friendship, and the way we can all come together by sharing our struggles.
Leslie Odom Jr., Eli Goree, Kingsley Ben-Adir and Aldis Hodge star as Sam Cooke, Cassius Clay, Malcolm X and Jim Brown (Picture: Amazon Studios via AP)
At first, we meet all four of these men in various locations, trying their best to progress in the way they can during a time period that is strife with racial injustice.
When they all come together in that motel room, we soon see how each one represents some of the underlying tensions within black America.
Odom Jr. perfectly expresses the struggle of soul singer Cooke who is left wondering what the value of his artistry is if he doesn’t do more for his people.
The quartet find themselves at cultural crossroads as they discuss life in 1964 (Picture: Patti Perret/Amazon Studios via AP)
Goree’s brings a tenderness to Clay, who is about to join the Nation of Islam but is left shaken when he learns that his mentor Malcolm is leaving the movement.
Hodge’s Brown is taking a leap of faith and planning to hang up his helmet in order to act full-time, while Ben-Adir’s Malcolm X is pushing the likes of Cooke to lean into the political revolution and spark fire that can lead to change.
King sticks to the format of the play and bases the majority of the action at the motel, shutting out the world and presenting these Black heroes in a powerfully simple and honest light.
It shouldn’t feel so rare and yet one can’t help but be bowled over by the fact we get to witness the many dynamics at work between the four men.
Friends united by the life they are living and the experiences they are facing but also butting heads over conflicting views.
They all went on to become Black icons we are still inspired by today, but at the heart of the film, we are reminded of the courage it took for them to make the choices they did.
The film is a moving, inspiring, and thought-provoking piece as King takes timely themes mixed with effective performances, asking viewers to question how we can also make a change at this equally tense period in the nation’s history.
One Night In Miami is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.