Set on the night of February 25, 1964, “One Night in Miami” follows a young, brash Cassius Clay as he emerges from the Miami Beach Convention Center the new Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the World. Against all odds, he defeated Sonny Liston and shocked the sports world. While crowds of people swarm Miami Beach to celebrate the match, Clay – unable to stay on the island because of Jim Crow-era segregation laws – spends the evening at the Hampton House Motel in Miami’s African American Overtown neighborhood celebrating with three of his closest friends: Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, and Jim Brown. During this historic evening, these icons, who each were the very representation of the Pre-Black Power Movement and felt the social pressure their cross-over celebrity brought, shared their thoughts with each other about their responsibilities as influencers, standing up, defending their rights and moving the country forward to equality and empowerment for all black people. The next morning, the four men emerge determined to define a new world for themselves and their community.
Regina King has been an entertainer in Hollywood for over thirty years now. So with all that experience, chances are high that she has developed the unique skill set to direct her own film. That’s what she’s done here with her directorial debut with One Night in Miami. This film is not just another random period piece that takes place during the Civil Rights era. It focuses on real-life historical figures on a fictional night that teams up four Black American heroes like a Black version of The Avengers! What a high level of responsibility she had as the director of this film, and at the very least she passed by far!
Regina had the challenging task of taking four great Black American icons, Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.), and Cassius Clay – Muhammad Ali (Eli Goree), and providing a narrative that not only felt true but was also full of passion while giving every character their respective screen time. Even though One Night in Miami took a large portion of the film to start ramping up, once it did all your senses could do was force you to sit back and enjoy.
Racism comes in many ways, shapes, and forms. Besides the stellar intro Regina gave to each character as the film started, there was also her way of displaying how sneaky and sinister some racism can be. Some like it overt and cold so you know what you’re dealing with, but King showcases another form cloaked in disguise, and when it revealed itself during a conversation Jim Brown was having with an old friend the shock value was on high letting Black people know just where we fit in society amongst other groups back in the sixties and today in 2021. This is very necessary and appreciated in this film, with the best aspects being how the script and nature still resonate today. This film is a great historical bookmark just to show how little we have progressed in the past fifty-plus years, and Regina King handled it with great measure.
The performances across the board were good to great! The pedal starts to hit the medal when our heroes finally embark on their motel in Miami for this one night. The conversation that took place was a necessary one that spoke volumes on how each member felt about their contribution to society. Each man had their own perspective, and the way they bounced off of each other with sharp dialogue was not only a lesson that can be learned for future generations but spoke on how much strength and courage these men had during such trying and confusing times. My respect level has risen even higher for those men, wishing that same energy was still present in my community today.
What I believe Regina King was trying to convey is how important communication is. No matter how comfortable it may be, expressing how you feel with your fellow neighbors is crucial for survival or any type of advancement in any field. Some may also feel as if this was a fantasy (which it was), but the thought of these gentlemen meeting this one night in Miami actually taking place makes me wonder if it could’ve changed things for a brighter future. It’s fun to imagine what’s possible, and that’s what this film did for me as a viewer.
On a technical level the cinematography stood out, helping you transport your mind to many decades in the past, and the opening shot introducing Cassius Clay was a riveting way to launch the film. My only takeaway is that up until the hour mark of this feature, not much happens with all parties involved. There are a few bits of character development going back and forth, but not much grabs your attention until the meeting at the motel. Still, besides this being Regina King’s first round in the directors’ chair, this is a great and entertaining film. The fact that it’s her debut behind the camera makes it even that more impressive.