Boxing champ Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali, NFL legend Jim Brown, iconic singer Sam Cooke, and Nation of Islam leader Malcom X kickin’ it in a Miami hotel room celebrating, reflecting, and defining their role in the civil rights movement. It never happened, but One Night in Miami (Prime) gives us a fascinating look at four men at the top of their fields yet still treated like second class citizens. They confront the ugliest racism individually and work to solve it collectively.
One Night in Miami spends most of its time in Malcom’s (Kingsley Ben-Adir) hotel room after Clay beat Sonny Liston. While Miami parties, as Miami is wont to do, those two along with Sam (Leslie Odom Jr.) and Jim (Aldis Hodge) have the after party that’s just the four of them. But not all icons are created equally.
The movie opens with a representational glimpse of the prejudice even the biggest stars have to deal with in society. Then we see how they have their status in their communities. Malcom is staying in a motel in a Black neighborhood while Sam is living it up at the famous Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach. However.. a white person had to make the reservation.
A Fighting Chance
While racism is their common experience, they each experience it differently. Regina King, a great actress in her own right, goes behind the camera to direct. Taking a play from stage to screen is always difficult. And considering that about 80% of One Night in Miami is set in a hotel room, it would be easy for it to become static, staid, and slow. But King uses this to allow the story to breathe and the performances to thrive.
They fight among each other about the choices they make to benefit themselves versus what they can do for the community. While the stars express the joy and pain verbally, King subtly and brilliantly uses the camera to visualize their perspectives.
King could make history as the first Black woman to get an Oscar for Directing (a nomination should be a foregone conclusion). Meanwhile all four actors will get consideration for performances. My only problem is they could split the vote. I don’t know which could move into the supporting category.
But this is a film that will stay with you, make you talk, and make you wonder what could have been.
The Critic’s Cocktail Recommendation
A swig of whiskey. It was the drink of choice for Sam, Jim, and Cassius.. much to the chagrin of Malcom.