Regina King’s directorial debut, One Night in Miami, tells the story of four friends, Malcolm X, Cassius Clay, Jim Brown, and Sam Cooke, in a Miami hotel room after Clay’s win over Sonny Liston in 1964. While the four friends did meet that night in the hotel, the film’s depiction is a fictional account. This extraordinary ensemble cast offers a glimpse inside the personal thoughts of four black men navigating the world as celebrities and leaders.
The four men return to Malcolm X’s hotel room to celebrate Cassius Clay. Clay wins the championship boxing title after defeating Sonny Liston. What transpires over the next few hours is a reckoning between the events happening in the world, their struggles, and their friendship. The film opens with a short history of each man’s journey. Jim Brown, played by Aldis Hodge, is at the height of his career and beloved by football fans. In an incredible moment of irony, he returns home to visit a family friend, played by Beau Bridges who welcomes him with open arms. In the most casual of ways, Bridges reminds him that he is still a black man in a racist society. His achievements as a football star and his status as a celebrity do not change that.
Sam Cooke, played by Hamilton’s Leslie Odom Jr., wrestles with his success and desire for acceptance from mainstream white audiences. Nuanced and layered, his portrayal of Sam Cooke reveals a man often in conflict with himself. He struggles with the desire for white acceptance while remaining true to his art. As an artist, he has a knack for business. He is proud that he owns his masters, has a record label, and collects royalties from white artists who choose to cover songs written by him and those on his label. For Cooke, it is about empowering and providing opportunities for up-and-coming artists. He believes in financial freedom, but is that enough?
Canadian actor Eli Goree plays a young Cassius Clay before he changes his name to Muhammed Ali. Goree impeccably encompasses the bravado, strength, and unapologetic nature of the 22-year-old Cassius Clay. What is unique about Goree’s performance is how he portrays Clay’s youthful naivete. It is a side of the boxing icon that is rarely seen. In both his personal and professional life, Cassius Clay is a man in transition. Winning the boxing championship thrusts Clay into a new level of celebrity and scrutiny. He is also a young man with questions about his spirituality. In One Night in Miami, he contemplates joining the Nation of Islam and converting to the Islam faith under Malcolm X’s mentorship. How will this decision impact his career?
Goree spoke with the Chicago Defender about what he calls the role of a lifetime and what playing this iconic figure meant to him.
At the heart of the film is Kingsley Ben-Adir, who portrays civil rights leader Malcolm X. Ben-Adir, likely to endure repeated comparisons to Denzel Washington’s portrayal of Malcolm X, masterfully carves out a deeply poignant portrayal of the icon. In One Night in Miami, Malcolm X is also in a period of transition. He wrestles with the heartbreak and disappointment of discovering that his spiritual father, Elijah Muhammed, fathered numerous children out of wedlock. Malcolm X is passionate about black liberation and challenges each of his friends to consider the impact their influence could have on the movement. He encourages them to use their platforms to speak about injustices facing black people. He is leaving the Nation of Islam to start his own organization. He knows his life is about to change forever but does not know what consequences await him and his family. He also has not shared any of this with his friends. His heart is heavy as he carries the weight of the world on his shoulders.
Ben-Adir’s performance as Malcolm X shows a different side of Malcolm. His vulnerability and his deep love for his friends is evident. Kingsley Ben-Adir spoke with the Chicago Defender about his role and his desire to portray a different side of Malcolm X.
While these four iconic friends met in a hotel room in Miami, no one knows the details of what transpired. The dialogue and interactions between four iconic friends in One Night in Miami ring true with conversations relevant today. These actors brilliantly give us a glimpse inside the relationship between four black men in a way not often seen on the big screen. The portrayal of the friendship between four black men in One Night in Miami is intimate, humorous, and at times, intense as each man loves the other enough, to be honest, and truthful. They challenge one another to face the truth about themselves with love. Audiences will not only see four icons portrayed in One Night in Miami; they receive the gift of an intimate glimpse into the brotherhood between these four friends.
They each leave the hotel and return to their individual lives with a newfound sense of purpose that forever affects the trajectory of their lives. The stage play, One Night in Miami was written by Kemp Powers, who also wrote the film’s screenplay. Powers is enjoying a successful year, becoming the first black writer-director for Pixar films, and co-directing the hit animated film, Soul.
One Night in Miami is a beautiful masterpiece worthy of Oscar nominations for the film, writing, and directing. Regina King captures each character’s intensity, the temperature of the times, and the immense love and friendship between these four friends hanging out after watching the fight.
One Night in Miami debuts January 15th on Amazon Prime Video.
Interim Managing Editor Danielle Sanders is a writer and journalist living in Chicago. Find her on social media @DanieSanderOfficial.