After winning an Academy Award in 2019 for If Beale Street Could Talk and her fourth Emmy Award in 2020 for Watchmen, Regina King has now gone behind the camera for her directorial debut with ‘One Night in Miami‘. The drama is based on a play by Kemp Powers that explores a fictional meeting between four historical figures. Set in February 1964, the film traces the events of the night after Muhammad Ali‘s (then Cassius Clay) win over Sonny Liston, giving him his first word title as ‘heavyweight boxing champion’. A night that would ideally be spent drinking and gambling is instead celebrated in the company of close friends, leading to an intense discussion over freedom and liberation of black lives. The four men in question are Clay himself (played by Eli Goree), sensational singer Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.), NFL legend Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), and the greatest and most controversial political figure of his time, Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir). The night is spent debating, arguing, even fighting, and through it all, we see how the struggle for civil rights is not very different today than what it was six decades ago.
Four legends take you on a thought-provoking journey
Cassius Clay, Sam Cooke, Jim Brown, and Malcolm X are all legends in their own fields. When put together, we see a beautiful mosaic of ‘Black America’. The film goes on to explore how their own interpretations of black liberation differ from one another, while together paving the way for the civil rights movement, in which each of them play a significant role. We also get a glimpse of each of their lives separately, where it is evident that success or fame does not allow them to escape their identity, not even against the average white man.
The actors do justice to the icons they essay
Essaying the roles of historical figures is never easy and the four characters in this film were legends of their time. They have already been portrayed by some of Hollywood’s finest, be it Will Smith as Muhammad Ali or Denzel Washington as Malcolm X. The four young actors in the film had big shoes to fill but they wore them with confidence and strode along with conviction. Leslie Odom Jr. is a breath of fresh air as the joyful Sam Cooke, quite in contrast to the hardened Kingsley Ben-Adir as Malcolm X, who is aware that his end is nigh. Indeed, it was two years after the events in this film (though fictional), that he was assassinated. Eli Goree brings a sense of playfulness to the otherwise serious film, even as he takes us through Cassius Clay’s initial hesitations before his conversion. Aldis Hodge’s Jim Brown is the sound of reason that manages to bring the four men together despite their differences. All the actors do a commendable job in their roles and their combined chemistry is palpable.
A lesson in history and empathy for the desi BLM supporters
In ‘One Night In Miami’, we see four black men express their thoughts, desires, concerns, and fears devoid of the white perspective. With no white character around, the men are comfortable being themselves and we get to see the civil rights movement unfold through their perspective. If you have been following the BLM movement in the US, this film tells you a lot about its history and the pioneers of black liberation. This is where you truly get to see the racist side of America – through the eyes of a colored man. Even success and fame do not help him escape the oppression of white supremacy. The film will help you understand the BLM movement better and empathize with the oppressed by simply listening to their voice.
WATCH OR NOT:
One Night in Miami is an excellent directorial debut for Regina King, who stands to win big at the awards season with this masterpiece. Her film makes you laugh in parts, even cry in bits, but it mostly makes you think and introspect. It is a valuable lesson in history and empathy while taking you on a remarkable journey that does not leave your mind for some time.