One Night in Miami – a compelling encounter of icons ★★★★★

Regina King’s captivating directorial debut imagines what happened when Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, Cassius Clay (more commonly known as Muhammad Ali), and Jim Brown were all in the same room. 

On a night in 1964 in Miami, Cassius Clay (Eli Goree) defeated Sonny Liston at his first World Heavyweight Championship. Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), a close friend of Clay as well as his spiritual guide who would eventually lead him to the Nation of Islam, was also there, along with NFL superstar Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) and soul singer Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr). The four close friends celebrated this event, but what actually happened on that evening – and yes, the evening really did take place – is completely unknown to the public, but is captivatingly imagined in this film. One Night in Miami captures their hopes, dreams, and fears in all their political, religious, and social capacities – they all believe ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’ (pardon the pun) – even if some take more convincing than others. 

One Night in Miami parallels the play it is based on, and while at times it does feel theatrical, King manages to overcome the limitations of the stage, armed with Kemp Powers’ enthralling screenplay, produces an incredibly powerful film. King’s use of overhead shots and the clever use of mirrors to keep all four characters in the frame are subtle yet effective, keeping the focus on the body language and interactions between each other. What unfolds is an incredibly reflexive narrative from all four characters about how they, as heroes to Black communities in America, can influence and push for greater change. 

While Cassius’ decision to convert to Islam is what dominates the film, King also intertwines Malcolm X’s increasing paranoia about threats to his life, Brown’s desire to leave the NFL and pursue an acting career, and Cooke’s decision to write empowering songs – which ultimately makes for the film’s most emotional conclusion. 

We have all seen Denzel Washington in Malcolm X and Will Smith in Ali, but both Ben-Adir and Goree bring a completely new dimension to the roles as King endeavors to find the real people beneath, exposing all their concerns and thoughts at the time. 

Undoubtedly, this one night in Miami must have been utterly magical, yet it also poses an underlying heartbreaking twist. Much of the film focuses on the interplay between Sam Cooke and Malcolm X, perhaps because we, as audiences, are aware that their murders are just around the corner. It is likely that these four never met again. 

This film is immensely watchable and makes me incredibly excited for King’s directorial future. Its message resonates with the present and places you right in the centre of the drama – in the hotel room where it all happened. 


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