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Amazon Studio’s One Night in Miami is a movie for our time. Based on the critically acclaimed play by Kemp Powers, the historical drama tells the fictional story of a summit involving four pivotal members of the African-American community on the night Cassius Clay became the world heavyweight champion in 1964. It’s easy to see why the film is in the Academy Award conversation – it’s top notch from start to finish.
The film features standout performances from all four principles including the especially Oscar-worthy work of Kingsley Ben-Adir as Malcom X and Leslie Odom Jr. as Sam Cooke. And Director Regina King, who carefully allows the actors to run with the story, and films it in exquisite beauty, will certainly be a candidate for Best Director.
The plot is simple – a post-fight gathering where a group of acquaintances, who also happen to be leading Black figures of the time, are brought together by Malcolm X to celebrate Ali’s victory over Sonny Liston. Ali was actually expected to lose the fight, so no official victory party was planned.
The story provides background on each larger-than-life character, who face challenges of their own leading up to the meeting. They are all at turning points in their respective careers, and all on the verge of greatness. The characters are real, the ideas universal, but the conversations are speculative. This is a story of what might have happened, had they indeed met that evening.
Over the course of the night, the principals debate the direction the Civil Rights Movement and consider the role of the African American leader in the 20th century. There’s a lot of back and forth, and some actual pushing and shoving, as the night progresses. The timing is pivotal in the Movement; the “night” takes place just a few months after the 1963 “March on Washington.”
King has been quoted as saying that the film is a sort of companion piece to her HBO series Watchmen, but it could also be considered a companion piece to the second half of the 20th century, and the beginning of the 21st. The issues it raises have not gone anywhere. It’s historical, yet perfectly relevant for our times. One Night in Miami is, needless to say, about much more than a single night.
At times, there’s an ominous vibe… within a year, two of the four principals will be dead, yet the film ends on a hopeful note. Cooke, who had been flirting with more socially conscious music after hearing Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind,” writes and performs the classic “A Change is Gonna’ Come.”
He had previously heard “Blowin’ …” and was frustrated that a white man wrote what was to become an anthem on the Civil Rights Movement. Cooke penned “Change..” soon after, and the film concludes with a moving version of him singing it on The Tonight Show, the only known live version of the song. The rest is history.
A Night in Miami is out on Amazon Prime. Click here to view.