One Night In Miami… – Review

Worth seeing: for some striking performances and thought-provoking discussions that gain depth through history
Director:Regina King
Featuring:Aldis Hodge, Eli Goree, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Leslie Odom Jr, Beau Bridges, Christian Magby, Derek Roberts, Emily Bridges, Jerome Wilson, Lance Reddick, Lawrence Gilliard Jr, Michael Imperioli, Nicolette Robinson
Length:115 minutes
Certificate:15
Country:US
Released:15th January 2021

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

A rising young boxer, Cassius Clay (Eli Goree) has unexpectedly beaten Sonny Liston to become the World Heavyweight Boxing champion.

Rather than celebrating in style at Miami’s exclusive Fontainebleu hotel, he’s chooses to spend the rest of the evening with three friends at a nearby motel.

Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr) is a hugely successive soul singer and song-writer. Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) is a star American footballer on the verge of an acting career. Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir)  is a respected civil rights leader and preacher with the influential religious campaign group, the Nation of Islam.

During the course of the night, the four discuss their successes, their concerns and their goals – including how to make the world a better place for their fellow black citizens.

The meeting really happened – no-one knows exactly what was said – but this is how the film-makers believe it probably went.

WHAT’S IT LIKE?

Kemp Powers – the creator of Pixar’s recent Soul – has adapted his own stage play for the actress Regina King to direct. With the help of four fine actors, they show audiences – black and white alike – what kind of tensions were brewing within the black community back in the 1960s.

Even four men at the top of their very different professions had clashing views about how they got there, how to stay there and how to help others join them among society’s white elite.

The four close friends quickly fall out as their attitudes come to the fore. Malcolm X condemns Sam Cooke for writing meaningless love songs, rather than protest songs; Cooke retorts that song’s he’s written have made him richer than may white musicians. Jim Brown points out that the loudest campaigners for black rights are often those with the lightest skin, like Malcolm X. Cassius Clay is a bit thrown by the fact that on the eve of his announcement that he’s planning to join Malcolm X in the Nation of Islam, Malcolm tells him that he’s planning to leave.

Tensions rise – and fall – driven by determination – and loyalty – to each other and the wider black community. Friendships are challenged and strengthened.

It’s necessarily a very wordy film – and has trouble escaping its theatrical origins. Apart from four early scenes, to introduce each character, and similar codas to give us glimpses into the future, it’s basically just four men in a room; “One Night in a Miami motel room” might have been a more precise title.

But despite its stagey provenance and claustrophobic, the strength of all four performances and the weight of their arguments makes for a compelling drama – whoever the audiences. Most black viewers should be able to find something to identify with, while white audiences will find the discussions educational and enlightening without being patronising, or even finger-wagging.

Unlike the recent Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, which was also a stage adaptation, largely featuring four men in a room, these characters are more empathetic, despite being more extraordinary. They’re eloquent and interesting and their arguments are more useful.

The fact that the events portrayed are nearly sixty years old, while many of the same arguments are made today, shows, perhaps, just how far there is to go on this journey; four years after the first black US President and as the first minority ethnic woman is taking over the Vice Presidency, it’s clear that for many among minority communities in the US – and beyond – such historical experiences of some of the biggest names in sport, entertainment and activism are still beyond their reach.