This is a film newly added to Amazon Prime, One Night in Miami is an incredible piece that is the first full feature-length film directed by Regina King, with screenplay adapted by Kemp Powers of the play also written by him. It sees the legendary names of Muhammad Ali (known as his birth name Cassius Clay during the majority of the film, played by Eli Goree), Malcolm X (played by Kingsley Ben-Adir), Sam Cooke (played by Leslie Odom Jr.) and Jim Brown (played by Aldis Hodge) during the night of 25th February 1964 in Miami, Florida. The four men are together that night to celebrate Ali’s win over Sonny Liston, and the film is Powers’ creative imaginings of what the four may have spoken about and how they may have interacted with each other.
Just to introduce the four men in case you aren’t sure, Muhammad Ali (1942-2016) was a professional boxer, activist, entertainer and philanthropist – nicknamed ‘The Greatest’, Ali was full of rightly placed self-confidence and knew that he could be the best in the world at boxing. Malcolm X (1925-1965) was a Muslim minister and human rights activist, a very well-known leading figure of the civil rights movement in America during the 1950s and 60s. Sam Cooke (1931-1964) was a magnificent soul singer, song writer and entrepreneur, honored as the ‘King of Soul’ for his distinctive vocals and masterful song creation. And finally, Jim Brown (1936-) is a former professional American football player, sports analyst and film actor, he is considered one of the greatest players in NFL history.
The men knew each other before the fight, they are all invited to Malcolm’s room at the Hampton House motel for what they think is an afterparty to celebrate Ali’s boxing match win. It ends up being a very complex and at times challenging reckoning between the men, discussing topics such as racism and race relations in America at the time, what they perceive each other to be doing to support the black community and their ambitions for lives and futures. Ali plans to announce the next day that he is to become a Muslim and join the Nation of Islam, Malcom encourages this but it is a time when he himself is becoming disillusioned with the Nation and particularly it’s leadership by Elijah Muhammad. Cooke is continuing a successful recording career, Malcolm accuses him at times during the evening of being complacent with racism in America by performing at concert halls such as the Copacabana for all-white audiences, but he reminds Malcolm that he has set up a company called SAR Records supporting and promoting African American musical talent. Brown is just beginning his career in acting, he is somewhat shy and apprehensive about revealing this, but ends up announcing his retirement from professional football to pursue a film career.
Within 1 year, two of the four men would be dead. Sam Cooke died in December 1964 at the young age of 33 years old, under suspicious circumstances in a rundown Hacienda Motel in Los Angeles, California. The following year in 1965, Malcom X was assassinated in New York City, 3 Nation members were tried and found guilty of his murder, after Macolm had recieved numerous death threats for leaving the group. But there is much controversy still over whether they were in fact the culprits, or if law enforcement agencies were involved is an ongoing speculation.
All four actors are incredible at their character portrayals of the legendary men, they certainly did not have an easy job. I personally think that Eli Goree steals the show as Muhammad Ali, he embodies the boxer in stature, voice and character, his self-confidence, at times his insecurity as the youngest member of the 4 in the group and his considered decision making at how to proceed with his future. I haven’t seen Goree act before, despite being 40 years old himself he fits perfectly as the 21 year old Ali, I will definitely be seeking out some of his other work, such as Race (2016).
I would highly recommend watching this film, One Night in Miami, and if you already have, try some of the following:
- I Am Ali (Netflix)
- Who Killed Malcom X? (Netflix)
- The Two Killings of Sam Cooke (Netflix)
- Jim Brown: All-American (DVD)
Thanks for reading,