One Night in Miami is a fictional account of one incredible night where icons Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, and Jim Brown gathered discussing their roles in the civil rights movement and cultural upheaval of the 60s.
The 1960s were a pivotal time in the civil rights movement in the United States with several iconic figures playing a part to achieve greater rights and equality for black Americans, whether it be directly through politics or activism, or through the influence of sport and entertainment. ‘One Night in Miami’, Regina King’s directorial debut, is based on Kemp Powers stage play, and its premise is to imagine a meeting between four prominent individuals in Miami in 1964 in the aftermath of Muhammad Ali’s title win over Sonny Liston. This concept allows Powers (and King) to explore these men and their differing viewpoints on how to progress their cause, and it provides fascinating insight through the conversations that take place between them on this evening. It may be fictionalised but the crux of any work of art is to get at the truth of the characters and I thought ‘One Night in Miami’ was a superbly well-made and thought-provoking movie that absolutely achieves what it sets out to do.
The four men featured in the movie are activist Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), boxer Muhammad Ali (Eli Goree), NFL player Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) and singer Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) with the film taking place almost entirely within Ali’s motel room and on the motel roof. Most viewers will be familiar with these men already, however the film does provide brief intros to each character which act as much as a showcase for the actors playing them as it does to introduce the characters. These people are larger than life so we have certain expectations of them and the film gets good mileage out of both playing to what we already know (Malcolm X had a short fuse and more radical views, for example), but also bringing in personal elements to let us imagine what these people were like away from their public personas. I thought all of the actors were really good, with Ben-Adir the pick of the bunch as Malcolm X, arguably the most prominent of those featured in the film.
Sometimes films based on play struggle to escape their stage origins and whilst ‘One Night in Miami’ is undoubtedly talky and claustrophobic in its setting, I felt Regina King and the actors produced good work to bring the story to screen successfully (unlike say ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’, another stage play adaptation in recent weeks). I thought it was quite a reflective piece of work and our knowledge of how these individuals lives panned out and where we are today added a sense of poignancy to some of the interactions – knowing that Malcolm X and Sam Cooke would both be dead within 12 months of this meeting adds to the ‘moment in time’ feeling I got.
‘One Night in Miami’ is a good example of a stage to screen adaptation done well, and I really enjoyed it, from the performances to King’s direction, to the content and style which I found to be informative, engaging and well presented. It’s available on Amazon Prime now.
Directed By: Regina King
Starring: Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge, Leslie Odom Jr., Lance Reddick, Nicolette Robinson, Michael Imperioli, Beau Bridges, Marisa Miller, Lawrence Gilliard Jr., Jeremy Pope and Christoper Gorham