Oscar-winning actor Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk) delivers a powerful adaptation of Kemp Power’s 2013 stage play One Night in Miami on her first outing as a director. Her film tells the imagined story of an encounter between four African-American icons in a hotel room at the height of the civil rights movement.
On the titular evening of February 25, 1964, 22-year-old Cassius Clay (not yet Muhammad Ali, played by Eli Goree) – who has just defeated heavyweight champion Sonny Liston – is invited by his friend and mentor Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir) to a modest motel room to celebrate the historic victory. There, they are joined by soul singer Sam Cooke (Hamilton‘s Leslie Odom Jr.) and American football star Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge, from The Invisible Man). As the evening gets underway, both Cooke and Brown start to feel ambushed by Malcolm, whom they argue has brought them together under false pretences. Conversations grow heated as Malcolm brings up the subject of joining political organisation The Nation of Islam (of which he is a leading member). While Clay is already completely on board with his friend’s beliefs, the other two are less sure of what they see as Malcolm’s counter-productive methods. The rest of the film sees these great men engage in debate around a number of subjects to do with the cultural upheaval of the 1960s.
With commendable precision and astonishing attention to detail, King explores the motivations behind each man but never strays too far from the original source material. She is careful to retain the stagey, and at times claustrophobic, nature of the original text, but isn’t afraid of injecting her own style and worldview into the narrative. Each character’s individual life story is examined, including their personal experiences with racism. King does this by offering up argument and subsequent counter-argument for every point made, so that by the end we feel as though all avenues have been explored.
Cast-wise, the performances are believable and moving, with Kemp Power’s wordy screenplay expertly delivered. Goree’s standout turn as Clay – sure to be in the running come awards season – perfectly captures the boxing great in all his self-assured glory and undeniable decency. Of course, many viewers will be tempted to ask, “Where are the women?”, but there’s little doubt that their absence is more telling than any physical representation. Eventually, the film culminates with a sequence built around Cooke’s live TV performance of ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’. Most will find it hard – if not impossible – to remain dry-eyed. Just like its most famous character, this is a film that packs a punch.
- Director: Regina King
- Starring: Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge, Leslie Odom Jr.
- Release date: October 11 (London Film Festival), full release details to be announced