Race, politics, power, and civil rights become the focus when four iconic characters gather in a hotel room in Regina King’s directorial debut. A film which premiered at the annual AFI Film Festival, “One Night in Miami” has already garnered awards buzz in this year’s Oscar race.
Written by Olivier-nominated Kemp Powers and based off his 2013 stage play, it’s set on the night of February 25, 1964 and follows a young Cassius Clay (before he became Muhammad Ali) as he emerges from the Miami Beach Convention Center the new World Heavyweight Boxing Champion. Against all odds, he defeated Sonny Liston and shocked the sports world.
While crowds of people converge on Miami Beach to celebrate the match, Clay – unable to stay on the island because of Jim Crow-era segregation laws spends the night at the Hampton House Motel in one of Miami’s historically black neighborhoods celebrating with three of his closest friends: activist Malcolm X, singer Sam Cooke and football star Jim Brown. It’s the conversations that occurred on that night that King focuses on in this emotional drama.
“Many of the things that are being discussed in this film are just as relevant today as there were 60 years ago,” says King who introduced the film at a drive-in screening at the Rose Bowl. King admits she had been looking for a project that was based on historical figures and that had an important message for her feature film directorial debut when she was presented with the project.
“I knew I wanted to do the film because we don’t get the opportunity to see Black men celebrated in such a complex way that often in film and TV,” she explains. “Normally when we see Black men in film or on TV, we are not able to see them be vulnerable and strong at the same time. That is something I felt Kemp captured so amazingly well. I became a part of the project because I was so inspired by the script which gives the opportunity to explore and respect these men in a moment and truly see who they were as men beyond and behind their iconic images.”
Starring Leslie Odom Jr., as Sam Cooke, British-Afro Caribbean actor Kingsley Ben-Adir as Malcolm X., Canadian actor Eli Goree as Cassius Clay and Aldis Hodge as Jim Brown, the film explores the heated conversations that took place that night between the four men.
Decisions are made as rants and revelations change the lives of these four men. It’s where Malcolm shares Clay’s conversion to Islam, criticizes its leader Elijah Muhammad and ends up in a fisticuff with Cooke at the hotel’s rooftop after a heated debate.
“You get a glimpse of what their relationship was and it shows what these men were trying to do. They’re debating, they’re arguing, and then they have to figure out how to come back together and get on the same page and not hold grudges,” shares Hodge who says he leaped at the opportunity to play Jim Brown. “It’s a side that maybe this generation may not know and I was enthralled when I was doing all the research. It was a wonderful foray into what that world was back then and I really enjoyed learning about it.”
Dialogue based and though better suited to the stage than the screen, King examines its subject matter with perception, depth, insight, and feeling and credit goes to a superb and enigmatic cast who are dead ringers for the legends they are portraying. The story ends on an upbeat note, leaving audiences not only entertained but educated.
“One Night in Miami” releases in select theaters December 25 and on Amazon Prime January 15.
Check out the trailer below:
By Samantha Ofole-Prince/Photos courtesy of Amazon Studio