“One Night in Miami,” an historical fiction play turned movie, describes the intimate get together of what director Regina King calls the “historical Black Avengers.”
The actors portraying Malcom X, Jim Brown, Sam Cooke and Muhammad Ali [also known as Cassius Clay], describe problems and solutions within the Black community while using conversation to humanize all four individuals. Its thoughtful tone projects the pain and passion within the Black struggle in the ’60s. Thefilm’s powerhouse characters were blessed with unique talents and the film shows how their actions have changed the course of history.
The film begins with Cassius Clay, played by Eli Gorre, in a boxing ring taunting then-heavyweight champion Sonny Liston with hand gestures, slight remarks and toping it off by sticking his tongue out at him helping to display his characters youth. Soon after we see him win his first heavyweight title, and we see him and the gang go back to a hotel to celebrate. We learn that it is at this point in his life that he decided to begin his journey as a Muslim and join the Nation of Islam with Malcom X. Before this announcement Clay was attacking the room with his triumphant energy and boastful comments about his victory in the ring, but even with this announcement to his friends he seemed timid about his choice — though he still managed to portray confidence. Throughout the night Jim Brown and Sam Cooke explain their concerns about such a choice and how this religion is seen as a threat to whites. Clay becomes more and more hesitant about his choice until Malcom reveals that the real reason he helped to convert him was not so that he could join the Nation of Islam but so that he could help inspire others to join his own movement that he planned on starting. While Clay originally felt used by Malcom, he ended up announcing to the world with Malcom by his side that he was a Muslim; by the end of the movie he became a part of the Nation of Islam and adopted the name Muhammad Ali.
Former NFL football star Jim Brown, played by Aldin Hodge, exuded confidence and strength throughout the movie. But he assures the audience that he is no meathead through his discussion of colorism and financial freedom. While most would easily consider Malcom’s crusade to be a noble one, Brownquestioned his motives.
“I just wonder if all this pushing and ‘hard line this’ and ‘hard line that’ is really about trying to prove something to white people, or … or Malcolm, is it about trying to prove something to Black people?” Brown said.
He also foreshadows his retirement from football in order to pursue an acting career.
Sam Cooke seemed to be the most lost of the four. While much of his popularity from his first hit single had begun to fade, he was struggling with what artistic direction he should turn to next. Malcom X, while a fan of Cooke’s music, did not approve of his “shuckin’and jivin’ for the white man.” Cooke explained that he believed that his music didn’t need to correspond with his beliefs if the money he made from it was going into the hands of African Americans. He said that his label, SAR, was full of Black soul singers and writes that he helps get ahead in the music industry through the use of white entertainers.
“Everybody talks about how they want a piece of the pie, well I don’t,” Cooke said.“I want the goddamn recipe.”
While Malcom’s conversation with Cooke about his music being irrelevant to the things going on in Americaangered Cooke, we see that this along with his later conversation with Cassius Clay may have helped inspire him to write the timeless song,“I was born by the river.”
Malcom X represents the most radical, outspoken and judgmental member of the foursome. Having hosted an after-party in which he only planned on serving vanilla ice cream and revolutionary conversation, we see that Malcom is a focused man with a mission. Throughout this story he explains to his friends the importance of the Black struggle and how essential they were to the changing of time.
“Brother, you could move mountains without lifting a finger,” Malcolm said.
Throughout his monologues about his friends’ wasted talent, and speeches on the importance of discipline and awareness, he makes his love for his friends evident, all while awaiting his inevitable death.
This mesmerizing tale brings each of the four famous Black men to life. The audience is given the opportunity to step into different corners of Black success in the ’60s while peeking into each man’s cultural responsibilities. Each of the four used their individual talents to motivate and inspire while representing the essence of Black power.
“‘Power just means a world where we’re safe to be ourselves. To look like we want. To think like we want. Without having to answer to anybody for it,” Cassius Claysaid one night in Miami in 1964.