And what a night! After Cassius Clay’s victory over Sonny Liston in 1964, four friends meet to celebrate. They are prize-fighter Cassius Clay (Goree), NFL hero Jim Brown (Hodge), pop star Sam Cooke (Odom), and Malcolm X (Ben-Adir). Sitting in Malcolm X’s hotel room, the four reflect/argue about what they are and are not doing for the rights of blacks. Three of the four are famous in the white man’s world, and Malcolm X challenges them on what they are doing for their brothers.
What follows sounds like discussions among philosophers about a controversial theory, framed in terms of the personal lives of each man. This is the time when Cassius Clay is considering becoming a Muslim, and he, Brown, and Cooke are at the height of their careers, pulling in lots of money. Malcolm is urging them to use their fame and wealth to lift up their brothers. The perspectives of the three who have “made it” are the heart of the story and, along with Malcolm’s, becomes educational for the viewer, particularly for someone who is white. All are bright and introspective, listen attentively to good points made by the other, and serve as a model of how political disagreements might be rationally worked out. (Something not as apparent as we wish in today’s great divide.)
I credit writer (of the play, as well as the film version, and the current Pixar animation, Soul) Kemp Powers with the soul (pun intended) that makes the play and film work. It reasons out the responses blacks might give to the incredible injustices they have experienced for far too long. Just as importantly, it presents a rationale for each response and frames it in terms of the power of equality. In this, a clear distinction is drawn between economic success in the interest of equality, as opposed to simply personal gain.
The first-time director of a motion picture, Regina King, is likewise to be acknowledged in adhering to Powers’ writing and in framing and pacing scenes that allow the story to move forward. She also avoided the “stage-play” look characteristic of some films adapted from plays. An accomplished actress (If Beale Street Could Talk and TV shows, “Watchmen” and “American Crime”) who has recently delved into directing, her success with this picture should assure continuing recognition for her.
Casting for this movie is exemplary in Ben-Adir as a convincing Malcolm X, and Goree, Hodge, and Odom playing the supporting characters. Each one captures the essence of the real person, so that the viewer merges the actor with the real person (if you’re old enough to have seen them).
One Night in Miami is likely to be seen as a hallmark film of 2020, coming after the demonstrations protesting the killing of George Floyd, when, for the first time, whites were united with black people in protesting. Hopefully, this movie will yet again bring home why and how the outrage, as well as the hope that real change can happen.
One Night in Miami makes a cogent argument to blacks and whites about the value for both in uniting for the cause of racial equality.
Grade: A By Donna R. Copeland