It doesn’t matter how much of the movie One Night In Miami is historically accurate. The conversation presented here shines a light on what these four influential black men might have been thinking at this key point in time. And on where our country and our culture was headed.
Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Cassius Clay (Eli Goree), Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) and Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom, Jr.) gather in Malcolm X’s Miami hotel room late in the evening of February 25, 1964 after Clay has defeated Sonny Liston to claim the heavyweight title.
Will it be a party with booze and women? Well, no. Malcolm X, a practicing Muslim, has supplied his room with… ice cream! Oh, boy!
Each of the men has accomplishments to be proud of but feels the challenges of dealing with an America still dominated by white society. Clay has just upset the heavily favored Liston. Cooke is a consistent hit maker. Brown has begun a movie career to go along with his NFL success. X is about to launch his offshoot of the Nation of Islam.
Like other movies that are adapted from stage plays, efforts are made to liven up the presentation and make it visually interesting… more than just four guys talking.
One Night In Miami opens with vignettes introducing the four principles. Clay in a boxing match versus Henry Cooper; Brown in a conversation with a Southern racist played by Beau Bridges; Cooke failing to win over a white crowd at the Copacabana; Malcolm X and his wife discussing his falling-out with Elijah Muhammed.
A trip to the hotel’s roof partway into the conversation, ostensibly to check out those who are surveilling Malcolm X, provides a different setting for the group’s discussions.
The conversation becomes, at times, contentious. The men like and respect one another but also launch a few barbs—some light, some not so light. The most pronounced is Malcolm X’s challenge to Cooke to do more meaningful music.
The film suggests that Cooke followed up on that suggestion by going on to perform his classic hit A Change Is Gonna Come on the Tonight Show shortly thereafter. In reality, that performance came a few weeks before the events of the movie occur.
The actors do, in fact, resemble their real life counterparts. Odom sings Cooke songs beautifully. Goree captures the cadence of Clay’s speaking but his accent, to my ear, sounds more like Charles Barkley’s.
The film is directed by Regina King who won an acting Oscar for her work in If Beale Street Could Talk. She has directed numerous TV episodes. The script is by Kemp Powers, who also wrote the stage version.
One Night In Miami begins streaming on Amazon on Friday, January 15, which just happens to be Regina King’s 50th birthday!