One Night in Miami .. is a profoundly thought-provoking look at the perception of African Americans in the eyes of the world. This film marks the feature film directorial debut of Regina King, who knocks it out of the park. If anything, King’s efforts left me wondering why she’s never had this opportunity until now. Her steady approach to Kemp Powers’ luscious screenplay helped maintain the focus on these four gentlemen and the circumstances which lead to them being together on this fabled night.
The strength of One Night in Miami lies in its well-crafted screenplay and tremendous ensemble. Powers’ decision to focus on these four historical figures was a stroke of genius. Cassius Clay, Jim Brown, Same Cooke, and Malcolm X each left a lasting impact on the African American community and, of course, the world. Each is being asked to compromise their own beliefs with the hopes of even being slightly accepted by the world. Clay (Eli Goree) feels that he can best serve the black community by adopting the persona of professional wrestler Gorgeous George when he’s in the ring so that he becomes a more relatable figure to all. His idea is that once people have bought in that he can bring forward issues impacting African Americans. Of course, this idea takes a slight detour when he announces that he’s going to follow Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir) and become a member of the Nation of Islam. Even though brother Malcolm has convinced him to join, we quickly learn that he’s having his doubts about the organization, which brought him to national prominence. This, of course, creates inner turmoil in Malcolm between his obligation to the group that’s given him so much and his own beliefs.
Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) and Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) are each dealing with racism in their way. Brown, upon visiting a white benefactor (Beau Bridges), is reminded of his place in the world when he’s told that he’s not allowed in the house because of the color of his skin. Cooke gets a chance to realize a dream by performing at the Copa Cabana club and finds out that his superior singing talent isn’t enough for the predominantly white crowd to stay for the entirety of his set. They realize that their fame only provides a reprieve from the racism African Americans face. They are good enough to perform for and be cheered on by white families, but it’s not enough to reverse the hate they feel. These four figures cross paths on the night that Clay defeated Sonny Liston to become the Heavyweight champion of the world. A majority of the film takes place in the aftermath of the fight at an after-party. Questions about each of their paths are brought to the forefront. Is it okay to compromise your beliefs so you can continue entertaining others? Is the “cause” more important than being true to yourself? Does fame alter the belief system of others?
Hodge, Odom Jr, Ben-Adir, and Goree are each terrific in the film. This type of ensemble comes around once in a great while. The last time we have seen this level of chemistry on screen was in 2016 during Moonlight. The four leads in the film gave Oscar-caliber performances. Odom Jr. and Ben-Adir stood out the most to me. It wouldn’t shock me if a year from now, we are referring to their respective performances as career-defining. Regina King will likely become the first African American woman nominated for Best Director at the Academy Awards. Anything less for King after the work she did in this film would be an utter travesty. One Night in Miami … is the type of film that appeals to Academy voters who are filling out their ballots for Best Picture. Amazon went all-in on this film and with good reason. King’s feature film directorial debut is a stunning achievement.