Released on Prime Video by Amazon Studios, Regina King’s One Night in Miami narrates the events that took place on that fateful night in Miami in February 1964 when four African American legends collected in a motel room for an intense exchange that altered them forever. The fictional account which is “inspired by true events” features the historic meeting between civil rights leader Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), heavyweight world champion on the cusp of embracing Islam, Cassius Clay (Eli Goree), soul legend Sam Cook (Leslie Odom) and NFL star Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge). What transpires between the four when they meet to celebrate Clay’s big win may not seem particularly prophetic right away. But as they slowly crawl out of the weight of their personalities over the course of the evening, we begin to see the men through a more relatable lens. They candidly take digs at each other, reflect on past glories, accidental encounters and also instances when they’d managed to sail through even when the odds were stacked against them. The film navigates various emotions and as the characters turn more forthcoming about their motives, they begin to see beyond their differences.
Ben-Adir infuses Barack Obama’s quiet resolve and body language in his Malcolm X and also conveys someone who’s cautiously optimistic about his ideologies. While the lead cast has equitable screen time and memorable performance bits, Ben-Adir elevates the controversial leader with just enough restraint. Goree as Casey before Muhammad Ali not only delivers on the celebrated boxer’s cheeky attitude and exhibitionist streak but also effectively conveys his conflicted and indecisive side when urged to consider a new religion and drop his ‘slave name’.
Regina King designs an intimate setting and furnishes the state of the country and the bigoted attitudes held by many through fleeting scenes alone. That the struggle for racial parity continues to rage on today makes this a timely release to reflect on the struggles of those martyrs who gave it their all. Going by the taut interplay between the characters and how King manages to momentarily engineer tension in one scene and diffuse it in the next, one can hardly tell that this is her directorial debut. She has a keen insider’s voice that seeps into her storytelling and how she projects each character.
Black, famous, righteous and unapologetic may describe the four iconic figures in this film but the overarching equaliser was that despite their prominent position, they were all contained or marginalised on account of their skin colour. That each of them deserves a film of their own for their enviable contribution to society and voicing dissent, renders even the mundane exchanges seem singularly surreal. Picture this: the world’s most influential leader of the Nation of Islam sharing a tub of vanilla ice cream with the world’s most belligerent boxer to bring in his big win. It’s like being placed in the missing pages of a history textbook that never was.
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