Award-winning actress Regina King makes her impressive directorial debut in Amazon Studio’s One Night in Miami. Written by screenwriter Kemp Powers (who adapts his off-Broadway Play), One Night in Miami is a fictional account of one incredible night where icons Cassius Clay (Eli Goree), Malcolm X (Kinglsey Ben-Adir), Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.), and Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) gathered together discussing their roles in the civil rights movement and cultural upheaval of the 60s.
King and her screenwriter make the wise choice to introduce us to the icons in the settings we know them best for. Aldis Hodge’s introduction is as Jim Brown, where he visits his home town and it is a bitter reminder of no matter how successful you are, there are people in the world who only want you to run a ball, and view you as less than a man. Our introduction of Cooke showcases the singing talent of Odom Jr, as his character Cooke prepares to make a groundbreaking appearance at the Copacabana.
Clay’s introduction comes in the form of a boxing match, where Goree taps into Clay’s smooth taunting of his opponents. However, it’s newcomer Kingsley Ben-Adir’s introduction that resonated with me the most. Sure to draw comparisons to Denzel Washington’s 1992 Oscar Worthy performance, Kingsley Ben-Adir portrays Malcolm as a man guiding Cassius Clay as the athlete prepares to announce his embrace of Islam publicly. Each of the four men immediately bring you into the characters, and you know that you’re in for a film filled with masterful performances.
Following the introductions of our characters, the film smoothly glides its way to Clay defeating Sonny Liston. Skipping a typical celebration, Clay instead retreats to Malcolm’s room at the Overton Hotel, where Sam Cooke and Jim Brown join him. And this is where One Night in Miami truly shines, as there are numerous moments I found myself applauding the dialogue and how the issues tie into Black America’s current mindset in 2020.
My favorite moment in the film occurs between Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) and Malcolm X (Kinglsey Ben-Adir). Music historians and fans know how much Cooke accomplished in his short time here. As Cooke, Odom Jr. has a flawless monologue about black ownership and what he’s doing, but Malcolm counters him with how Bob Dylan is making political music and seeing success, something that Cooke wasn’t doing. It’s a great moment, and I immediately thought of numerous R&B artists who cater to commercial audiences with pop music and current trends. Malcolm displays a similar sentiment towards Jim Brown, who is seen as one of the best football players, but hasn’t done enough for the black community. For me, it’s a great homage to the work that NBA superstar LeBron James would later do off the court while being chastised by some.
While the film is an ensemble piece and all four men deliver great performances, Kingsley Ben-Adir’s is our star. He portrays Malcolm as a man with dignity and confident mentorship. Particularly with (Eli Goree)’s Cassius Clay, who is twenty-two years old during the course of the film. Regina King, who has directed music videos and television episodes for series such as Scandal, Being Mary Jane, and This Is Us, has an excellent eye for the film’s men. One of my favorite shots is an overhead shot of four men getting out of a car that solidifies black excellence. I also loved King’s close up on our icons’ eyes to showcase the passion in each man’s eyes.
Kemp Power’s screenplay is also award-worthy as he gives each man a chance to shine. I also give the writer credit for incorporating historical figures such as Angelo Dundee, Betty Shabazz, and Jackie Wilson into the script, with each having merit to a particular character’s story. While the film is a fictional account, I’m hopeful that it will inspire actual research among younger viewers to learn more about Cassius Clay, Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, and Jim Brown.
With impressive dialogue and great performances from the cast, One Night in Miami is more than an awe-inspiring debut from Regina King; it’s one of the best films of 2020.
Final Grade A+
One Night in Miami will open in select theaters on Christmas Day and stream exclusively on Amazon Prime Video, January 15, 2021