One Night in Miami      Film on Netflix

It was February 25, 1965, Convention Hall in Miami, Florida. The hungry for glory, young Cassius Clay has whipped Sonny Liston to win the title of  Heavyweight Champion of the World. Looking for a way to celebrate his triumph, Clay joins three of his friends, Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.), Jim Brown (Aldie Hodge), and Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir) to “party.”

What happens when these four iconic men get together in a second rate hotel room in Miami in 1965? With Malcolm X in charge, there is to be no alcohol or drugs; instead, he serves up vanilla ice cream to his guests, (what symbol could be more significant) as the intense dialogue crescendos throughout the drama, leading to a stunning climax.

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One Night in Miami, adapted for the screen by Kemp Power from his own play, and directed by Regina King, gives the audience the sense of being in a Broadway theatre. The only action in the film is in the opening scene where Clay is shown losing an earlier fight in London to Henry Cooper. Other than that, the story is driven through dialogue as Malcolm X attacks Sam Cooke, one of the early black soul men, trying to break through to the white pop charts in the 1960s. Malcolm X, (played by Kingsley Ben-Adir, who looks so much like the Civil Rights leader that it is eerie), is disgusted with Cooke’s behavior; his fancy red convertible, women, and other accoutrements of success. 

To rile Cooke, Malcolm X pops the huge hit, Blowin’ in the Wind by Bob Dylan, onto a turntable in the room and taunts Cooke with the fact that a white man has peaked the top of the charts with a tune that could become the anthem of the Civil Rights movement. Why, he demands of Cooke, is he wasting his time writing frivolous songs when he should be using his talent to create a song that reaches the depths of the meaning of freedom and civility, a song that their people would be proud to embrace?

Malcolm X has been courting Cassius Clay, working on him to convert to Islam. Although Clay has been considering an announcement to the public that he is joining the Nation of Islam, he worries that such a move will turn his fans away from him. Malcolm X sorely needs a man of Clay’s stature to bond with him as Malcolm is on the cusp of a dangerous break with the current leader of the Nation of Islam, Elijah Mohammed. The fact that two burly guards stand outside Malcolm X’s room shows the expectation of an attempt on his life.

In fact, throughout the film, Malcolm X drops hints that he is doomed, and with his time running out, he needs to impart his message to the other men in the room; they need to be more forceful in their actions and step up into leadership positions in the march toward equal rights. A sense of doom hangs over the production because we, as spectators know the outcome of Malcolm X’s fate, as well as that of Sam Cooke, cut short at the age of 33 in a hotel shooting. 

In one of the opening scenes of the movie, Jim Brown returns to his home in Georgia and goes to visit a family friend, Mr. Carlton (Beau Bridges) in a scene that is horrifying. While Carlton makes a big deal about Brown’s success as a hometown hero, he makes a statement that comes out of his mouth in such a matter of fact tone, but is so shocking that it takes one’s breath away. Brown takes the insult on the chin; but underneath, his blood percolates. It is one more reason why he is doubting that  his phenomenal success in the NFL is worth the physical pummeling that his body is receiving each time he steps onto the gridiron. 

Brown is beginning to have success on the silver screen, and in another year will abandon his football career to dedicate himself to acting. He is searching for his freedom as an individual and wants to take back his life and make it his own. 

The genesis of One Night in Miami is based in reality. Cooke, Clay, Brown, and Malcolm X did come together on the evening of January 25, 1965 to celebrate Clay’s victory, but it is the genius of Kemp Powers’ imagination on which the drama is constructed. The dialogue is so rich and delivered by each performer so well, that this is a film that could be watched repeatedly, and the viewer would still pick up something that s/he hadn’t thought about before.