Oscar-and-Emmy-winning actress-turned-director Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk, Watchmen) is determined to tell powerful stories that haven’t been heard – like this fictionalized meeting of Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, NFL star James Brown and singer Sam Cooke in 1964.
On this February night, Cassius Clay (Eli Goree) defeats heavyweight champion Sonny Liston. Instead of the traditional celebratory party, Clay returns to his Hampton House Motel room, where he’s joined by Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) and Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.).
After many meetings with his spiritual mentor Malcolm X, 22-year-old Cassius Clay has decided to convert to Islam, changing his name to Muhammad Ali. But now Malcolm X is secretly determined to leave Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam and form his own organization.
While Jim Brown can still play football, he’s decided to opt for a future career in movies and Sam Cooke, who always dreamt of playing the Copa, is re-evaluating his sugary pop repertoire to include more gospel-soul.
While they’re all ‘celebrities’ in their own right, they hold differing views as to how to use their status to affect change in the segregated South, acknowledging “Economic freedom is the freedom that matters most.”
Although the concept is ‘inspired by true events,’ no one knows if these four men ever spent an evening in deep discussion, particularly after a Championship boxing match. But Malcolm X’s impassioned words – “We’re fighting for our lives! Our people are literally dying in the streets every day” – reverberate with relevance.
Adapted by Kemp Powers from his testosterone-charged, Olivier Award-nominated play, it’s essentially top-quality filmed theater, marking Regina King’s auspicious directorial debut. If King lands an Oscar nomination, she’d be the sixth woman and only Black woman in that directing category in 92 years.
King hopes that her film could be “a piece of art that moves the needle towards real transformative change,” noting that it references “conversations that are happening right now.”
On the Granger Gauge of 1 to 10, One Night in Miami is an intriguing 8. Streaming on Amazon Prime, it may be the right film at the right time.