Anyone who thinks female directors should stick to telling women’s stories is a) sexist and b) in for a surprise when they watch Regina King’s powerful directorial feature film debut One Night in Miami. Based on Kemp Powers’ same-named 2013 play, it imagines the fascinating conversation that might have happened between activist Malcolm X, boxer Cassius Clay, singer Sam Cooke, and NFL star Jim Brown had they all found themselves in the same place on the night of February 25, 1964.
Talky in the best way, the drama’s sophisticated script (adapted by Kemp) explores the four men’s perspectives on racism, duty, community, brotherhood, and much more. Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir) is at a critical juncture in his relationship with the Nation of Islam and his role in Civil Rights activism. Clay (Eli Goree) is on the cusp of becoming Muhammad Ali. Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) is having trouble believing in the power of his voice. And Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) is fed up with feeling like he has to achieve success in a way that feels safe for White people.
Early scenes introduce the men and offer perspective on what they ultimately bring to their far-ranging conversation. King and Kemp make it crystal clear how racism permeates every part of their lives. An early scene between Brown and Southern “gentleman” Mr. Carlton (Beau Bridges) drives that fact home with a gut punch, as do later images of Malcolm X’s wife and young daughters fleeing their burning house in the middle of the night. Racism isn’t a concept or a construct to these men: It’s daily life.
When Malcolm X bellows his fury over what’s happening to Black people in America in 1964 — “Our people are literally dying in the street! Black people are dying every day, and a line has got to be drawn in the sand. … A line that says either you stand on this side with us, or you stand over on that side against us!” — it feels like he could be talking about 2020. His fury — and the intense emotion of the other men he talks with and to over One Night in Miami — is just as powerful today as it was then. King doesn’t shy away from confronting that reality or capturing those emotions, and the end result is a memorable film from a director with impressive potential. — Betsy Bozdech
Team #MOTW’s comments:
Marina Antunes Featuring a collection of exceptional performances, Regina King brilliantly transfers Kemp Power’s play of the same title into new territory, taking advantage of the medium to expand the frame and capture the unfolding unrest and kinetic energy in the streets of Miami in this fictionalized account of a real night that unfolded in 1964 when four black American icons met for a night of celebration in Miami that turned out to be a key turning point in both their individual lives and the growing civil rights movement. Dynamic, engaging and entertaining, the themes and struggles of One Night in Miami… are as important today as they were on that night in 1965 and King’s film is a worthy celebration of the legacy forged that night.
Pam Grady: Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner Regina King makes a spectacular feature directing debut with an elegant drama that imagines an indelible evening in the lives of four legendary African Americans. Ostensibly, the gathering is to celebrate 22-year-old boxer Cassius Clay’s first heavyweight title on Feb. 25, 1964. But as Clay and friends, Nation of Islam minister Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), singer-songwriter Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.), and Cleveland Browns fullback Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), talk through the night, what emerges are lives on the cusp of great change in sync with a transformative decade. Kemp Powers adapts his own play, a witty, sometimes moving portrayal of friendship between men who are each stars in their own fields. King elicits from her cast precisely calibrated performances that reflect not just the hearts but the souls of these extraordinary individuals. The ensemble is superb. Acting just doesn’t get any better than this.
Susan Wloszczyna: There has been plenty of male ensemble action this year, but topping the list is director Regina King’s vision of writer Kemp Powers’s adaptation of his 2013 stage play that imagines what would happen if boxer Muhammad Ali (Eli Goree) – then known as Cassius Clay – football great Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), pop crooner Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) and civil rights activist Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir) came together in a Miami hotel room after the boxer defeated Sonny Liston in February of 1964. What transpires between these charismatic legends is a lively and imminently timely discussion of the civil rights movement and how celebrities fit into the ongoing discussion of racial injustice and equality for all. Read full review.
Nikki Baughan: Featuring a quartet of powerhouse performances, One Night In Miami is a strong debut from actress-turned-filmmaker Regina King. Adapted by Kemp Powers from his own stage play, it turns an audacious but inspiring fictional premise – the meeting of four powerful, influential Black men in Miami in 1964 – into an exploration of race, class and culture. Get activist Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), NFL star Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), singer Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr) and a young Cassius Clay (Eli Goree), fresh from being crowned champion of the world, in a room together, and you would expect fireworks. Yet Powers and King are more interested in exploring the grey areas of this meeting of minds; the places where they may disagree, or diverge on the steps needed to bring equality to a racially segregated United States. And all four performers find the nuances within their idols, effectively mining the vulnerabilities and insecurities that lurk within even as they lead the march for change.
Leslie Combemale It has been clear for a while that Regina King was headed for feature film direction, and she found a great and compelling subject in the historic night in 1964 when Cassius Clay (soon to be Mohammad Ali), Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, and Jim Brown spent the evening together after Clay defeated Sonny Liston at the Miami Convention Hall. Screenwriter and playwright Kemp Powers adapted his award-winning play and King populated her film with a powerhouse cast that shines both individually and as an ensemble. Read full review.
Loren King Regina King is such a brilliant actor that it’s not surprising she works wonders with the stellar male ensemble in her directing debut, One Night in Miami. The story unfolds largely in single hotel room where Clay celebrates with friends Malcolm X (Kinglsey Ben-Adir); football legend Jim Brown Aldis Hodge; and singer Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.). The compact setting and time frame expands rather than limits the drama. We get to hear the four characters, each wrestling with fame, racial injustice and personal ambition, talk, argue, tease one another and even sing. King allows these virtuosic performances to flourish. Read full review. Read full review.
Jennifer Merin In her feature film directorial debut, Regina King guides an all male ensemble through an imagined gathering of four charismatic African American cultural and political icons — Cassius Clay, Malcolm X, Jim Brown and Sam Cook — who discuss in depth their views on issues related to race, success and celebrity and individual responsibility to the systemically oppressed Black community. The fascinating and revelatory debate is dramatic and dynamic thanks to superb performances by Eli Goree, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Aldis Hodge and Leslie Odom Jr, respectively. Yes, the film is primarily male-centric, but it is universally relevant. Brava Regina King for bringing this important project to fruition, and doing so with such brilliance.
MaryAnn Johanson So here is a movie about men, written by a man. Is the fact that it is directed by a woman — this is a stunning feature directorial debut from actor Regina King — enough to warrant highlighting it as an AWFJ Movie of the Week? Yes, it is. Because here we see that the vital alternative perspective that a female director brings to men’s stories. For all that One Night in Miami… is about passionate intellectual disagreements among men about big issues — politics, religion, money, power — it is also about emotional connection, allyship, and friendship, the very things that are often overlooked, or treated only via distancing, proxy metaphors (and frequently ones centering aggression and violence), when men tell men’s stories. The beautiful performances by her riverting cast are lively and full of feeling, but they might have gotten short shrift in another — a male — filmmaker’s interpretation. King’s eye allows the tenderness and the vulnerability to her male characters full blossom.
Sandie Angulo Chen: Kudos to director Regina King and screenwriter Kemp Powers for this intimate, timely, and beautifully performed adaptation of Powers’ play about a fictional night of conversation between four of the most influential Black men in American history in February, 1964: Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), boxing legend Muhammad Ali, who was still known at the time as Cassius Clay (Eli Goree), football great-turned-actor Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), and singer-producer Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.). All four of the men give outstanding performances, although there’s something particularly poignant about both Ben-Adir’s and Odom’s portrayals given that in hindsight both of the men they play would be dead within the year. It’s a remarkable debut for the Academy Award-winning actress, and Powers’ dialogue covers subjects that still resonate today. A must-see as society continues to hope for change, progress, and equity.
Nell Minow: Director Regina King gets superb performances from her outstanding cast. A story about four people talking to each other in a hotel room could get stagey, but King holds our attention with skillful framing, literally in her use of windows and doors and narratively in expanding the context. She is as talented as a director as she is as an actor and it doesn’t get any better than that.
Liz Whittemore One Night In Miami is the fictionalized story of four iconic Black men in a meeting of the minds, discussing their influence on society and culture, both Black and White. Each brings a unique perspective, challenging the beliefs of each other and of the world. It’s a visceral watch with dialogue that could just as easily take place today as in 1964. Carefully adapting his own stage play, Kemp Powers brings these men to life once again for the silver screen. This cast deserves a Best Ensemble recognition as they give nothing short of brilliant performances. You feel like you’re in the room for these extraordinarily intimate conversations, the majority taking place in a single hotel room. It is a masterful directorial debut from Regina King. The finale strikes the perfect balance of hopeful and haunting. Literally underscored by Leslie Odem, Jr’s performance not once, but twice. The second heard over the credits with a stunning original track titled “Speak Out”. It will sing straight to your soul. Everyone in America would be better off watching One Night In Miami. It deserves to be seen and truly heard.
Title: One Night in Miami
Director: Regina King
Release Date: December 25, 2020
Running Time: 116 minutes
Screenwriter: Kemp Powers
Distribution Company: Amazon Studios
AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Sandie Angulo Chen, Marina Antunes, Nikki Baughan, Betsy Bozdech, Leslie Combemale, Pam Grady, MaryAnn Johanson, Loren King, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Liz Whittemore, Susan Wloszczyna, Kathia Woods
Edited by Jennifer Merin