One Night in Miami is a 2020 American historical drama film directed by Regina King in her feature film directorial debut with a screenplay by Kemp Powers based on his stage play of the same name. The film is about a meeting of Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, and Sam Cooke in a room at the Hampton House in February 1964, celebrating Ali’s surprise title win over Sonny Liston. It stars Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge, and Leslie Odom Jr. in the lead roles.
There is some debate about whether this meeting of African-American icons ever happened though Powers insists that it did. Sounds too good to be true. For the uninitiated, Malcolm X was a Muslim civil rights leader, Muhammad Ali was a professional boxer, Jim Brown was a American football player/action movie star and Sam Cooke was a singer-songwriter.
The main driving dramatic need revolves around Malcolm X’s departure from the Nation of Islam and needing Ali’s conversion to Islam to attract followers to X’s new religious organisation. For Brown and Cooke, it’s more about their conflict with X as to how they can – as African-American celebrities – further the Black civil rights cause. Most of the drama is dialogue-driven but the lead actors do a fantastic job delivering Powers’ line and King’s direction is restrained but suitably emotional.
For music fans, there is a potent moment where X uses the power of Bob Dylan’s lyrics to push Cooke into writing more meaningful and relevant songs for the cause. Does X succeed? That’s the key dilemma of One Night in Miami – what is the ‘right’ way to promote the cause of Black civil rights? Is in economic freedom (as argued by Cooke and Brown) or political power (as presented by X). History seems to suggest that X never quite achieved the goals that he set up for himself.
One Night in Miami is an essential movie to watch – even if the socio-political issues do not resonate with you, you must at least engage and connect with the real life plight of these four significant men in the context of their times, the sixties.
… still there’s more …