Four icons share a night in Miami

Amazon Prime’s latest release, One Night in Miami is met with praise of the thought-provoking story of the connection between the private and public lives of Black activists


One Night in Miami is now streaming on Prime Video and is directed by award winning Regina King.

Eric Omorogieva, Staff Writer

February 1964 marked the intersection of many cultural events in American history. On Feb. 9, the British Invasion began in the U.S with The Beatles appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, America was still recovering from the tragic assassination of President Kennedy, the Civil Rights Bill was still looming and on the night of Feb. 25, Cassius Clay (AKA Muhammad Ali) defeated Sonny Liston in one of the most famous showdowns in boxing history. One Night in Miami, the directorial debut of Oscar and Emmy award winning actress Regina King, keys in on the latter of these events by creating a narrative around the friendship between Ali, Black Muslim leader Malcolm X, NFL star Jim Brown and singer Sam Cooke. The story, based on the stage play by Kemp Powers, is fictional, but ties directly into the true friendship and history fueling its narrative. This movie’s impactfulness and insightfulness is achieved through a series of conversations and arguments amongst the four leads. Leslie Odom Jr., Kingsley Ben-Adir, Aldice Hodge and Eli Goree star in this film released widely on Amazon Prime Video.

One Night in Miami attracts viewers first by showing where each of these men are in their lives at this time. Ali was just coming off of an embarrassing loss and struggling over his decision to follow Malcolm X’s footsteps in becoming a Black Muslim. Malcolm X was in the midst of deciding whether to sever his ties with the Nation of Islam (NOI), Cooke bombed his big night at the Copacabana night club and Jim Brown was unsure of where his career was going next. This leads us into the big night where Ali defeats Liston and enjoys a night in the hotel with his three friends. The ideological differences between the men is illustrated instantly through Cooke and Brown’s distaste for Malcolm X’s conservative attitude against partying and drinking. Tensions rise as discussions continue over how to entertain themselves, with arguments between Malcolm X and Sam Cooke being the prominent moments of the story. Taking place in a hotel room the majority of the film, space is used as a tool to illustrate the tension.

What’s impressive about the arguments in this film is that no one is ever wrong. The ideas that are posed by each leading man are valid, reasonable and although challenged heavily, are never disproven entirely. This is an important way not only to show the depth of these four leaders’ characters at the time, but to respect that everyone comes from different backgrounds and opinions which make their experiences useful to discussions.

This movie succeeds most in its portrayals of each character. Kingsley Ben-Adir as Malcolm X is the best example of this, his portrayal focuses on sides of the leader that have never been depicted much before. Instead of the serious stature we are all used to, the film decides to use Malcolm X’s love for cameras as his trigger for happiness, bringing a more soulful and lighthearted approach and separating his performance from Denzel Washington’s 1992 portrayal. Leslie Odom Jr. as Sam Cooke steals the show with his singing throughout the film and his important character development that allows him to find a way to make songs that connect better with the lives of African Americans. The story depicts his envy of Bob Dylan’s “Blowin in the Wind” as a catalyst for his seminal track “A Change is Gonna Come,” released to radio just two weeks after his tragic death in December 1964. In addition, the film depicts his strive to become a better performer and music executive for his people. As Muhammad Ali, Eli Goree had the tough challenge of portraying such an charismatic legend, but does it gracefully, highlighting the internal conflicts of what it meant for someone of his celebrity to convert to the Nation of Islam.

History plays an important tie-in as well. Wrapping this fictional night into the larger history of America at the time is not easy, but this film does it well. All of the characters’ gripes and tensions fit right in to what is going on in the country at the moment. You can feel the weight of responsibility on these men’s shoulders at this time in their lives. All are at major crossroads in their lives and careers, and have secrets that they hope to keep from the rest of the group. These small details add a level of intrigue into the narrative, especially when secrets are revealed to the rest of the group, and the characters must unpack their way through it.

One small gripe in the execution of historical tie-ins arrives during the relationship between Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X, where it is insinuated that Malcolm X is tricking Ali to join the Nation of Islam as a way to make his exit less of a story. Ali being aware of this doesn’t entirely add up to the events that precede regarding their friendship. If Ali knowingly joined the NOI understanding Malcolm’s tactics and their close bond, there would be no reason for their friendship to have fallen apart as it did the latter of the year, when Ali began to lose contact with Malcolm X because he was no longer an NOI member. While this is a small issue among the many successes in the movie, it is still something to note.

Overall, One Night in Miami is a fascinating debut film for King and serves as a unique story of friendship, leadership and an important moment in the lives of four Black icons of the 60’s. The entire cast shines, the writing is excellent and the lessons learned can only serve to challenge us in a positive way. If you are one who enjoys dialogue-packed films, portrayals of historical figures and stories of friendship, this movie is for you.