“One Night in Miami” is the directorial feature film debut of Regina King and is a movie adaptation of the stage play by Kemp Powers. The film is a fictionalized retelling of the night that Cassius Clay unexpectedly became the world’s heavyweight boxing champion. The story follows Clay after his upset against Sonny Liston as his friend Jim Brown wanted to commemorate the event by going to a Black hotel. Malcolm X and Sam Cooke were waiting at the hotel. Not much is known about what the men talked about, however, the following morning Clay announced that he converted to the Nation of Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Ali.
At an almost two-hour running time, viewers are transported to an intimate conversation between friends that happen to be some of the most influential Black men in recent history. If you are looking to watch a movie to celebrate Black History Month and/or educate yourself, this is the perfect film.
It is apparent through its cast’s performances that “One Night in Miami” was initially a play with characters acting as vessels representing the Black struggle. Tension arises as the four men discuss what it means to be successful and Black as well as the guilt some of them have. Before the men meet, we see them grappling with their success and the implications of their triumphs.
Rather than showing graphic depictions of violence, the film emphasizes the characters’ internal struggles. The majority of the story takes place in a hotel room with little action, so the plot is largely dependent on the dialogue. Bigotry is referenced and its presence is felt as the movie demonstrates how each man is personally affected. Malcolm X accuses Cooke of pandering to a white audience, but Cooke adamantly denies this accusation. Clay doubts his decision to become a member of the Nation of Islam, while Brown questions his career as a football player.
The film does take liberties with its historical accuracy, which is expected in this genre of movie, by adjusting the timeline of events to condense what is happening in the lives of these four men. Despite this, “One Night in Miami” captures the spirit of the civil rights movements of the 1960s. Audiences are tired of seeing violence inflicted against Black people. There is an abundance of movies that prominently feature, and some may argue profit from, this suffering, from graphic historical dramas to white savior narratives. Instead, “One Night in Miami” showcases Black characters being agents of change in their lives, which sadly is a rarity in Hollywood unless there is Black talent behind the project. If you are looking for a movie that captures the essence of what the civil rights movement meant and what it continues to mean, give “One Night in Miami” a stream on Amazon Prime.