Many a child star has fallen by the wayside and the exceptions are few, far and in between. Regina King is one of those exception who has now made herstory at the Venice Film Festival with her feature film directorial debut. One Night in Miami’s journey began in 2013 as a Kemp Powers play, that chronicles the fictional account of a real night – February 25, 1964 pinpointing a pivotal moment in the lives of four, Black American icons whose potential, thoughts and actions play out in 90 minutes.
Now, Kemp has adapted this tale for the sliver screen resulting in a powerful, poignant, timely account of each man’s struggles, revelations and soul searching journey to what their individual and collective conscious can do to move forward themselves and their race.
King does an exemplary job at setting up events before, during and after the men connect. Cassius Clay is preparing for his victorious fight with Sonny Liston with a beautiful shot scene underwater of Clay during a pre-press event. Eli Goree is eerily convincing as a bombastic, yet gentle Clay as he revs up for the announcement to his friends, fans and the press he’s officially joining the Nation of Islam and changing his name to Muhammad Ali,
Leslie Odom, Jr is Sam Cooke with a voice like butter, proving once again there are no limits to his talent. Watching him and his gorgeous better half Nicolette Robinson share the screen together give me a flashback to the undeniable chemistry of a young Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis. It was so easy to watch and all too brief.
Aldis Hodge is simply perfection. as the quintessential star athlete Jim Brown, who realizes his presence is revered as long as he is carrying a ball down a field or starring in the latest box office feast. After all, some white folks in 1964 Georgia and even now believe Black folks are fine as long as they don’t cross the threshold.
Last, but certainly not least we are introduced to Malcolm X as he is asked to depart from the Nation of Islam, overly criticized as a white people hating demigod. Yet, we see an empathetic side doing morning prayers with Ali and a darling phone call while on the road to his daughter were equally serene, short and sweet. His most heartwarming moment comes in a recollection of watching Cooke turn an audience in Boston with an acapella version of ‘Chain Gang’ illustrating that Black men ‘bromance’ at its best.
Kemp manages to retain the intriguing charm of the stage version with moments like Jim Brown joking not being able to join the Nation of Islam due to loving his Grandmas pork chops and white women. The irony of having nothing to eat in the hotel room except for vanilla ice cream was not lost on means neither was the soundtrack, which I love!!!
Nothing was more emotional than the sultry tones of Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom, Jr.) crooning “A Change Gonna Come” as we witness these beautifully, talented souls navigate back into their lives after a night of talking smack and genuinely enjoying each other’s company during a time where any gathering of Black men anywhere would be considered a threat or dangerous to those white people in their circumference.
Each man representing a different dynamic in their circle of friends- the one who pushes buttons (Sam Cooke), the jokester (Cassius Clay), the one who challenges your conscious (Malcolm X) and the peacemaker (Jim Brown). At the end of the day, there is no room for any of us to be on the sidelines anymore. Black men are dying in the streets every day. Cooke, Brown, Malcolm X and Clay were the best and brightest our community had to offer at the time and though they sometimes disagreed, their core friendship was reflective of all the complexities and emotions held together in the molecules of being Black in America. All of these men in their respective lanes are righteous and unapologetically powerfully Black in ways we may not have been able to recognize in 1964, but has become so crystal clear in 2020.
One Night in Miami moved my spirit in ways, that left me speechless, honored and in a strange way…hopeful that a whole new generation will now be introduced to Black royalty and Black men who were classy, smart, charming and most of all Black AND Proud.