On her directorial debut, Regina King depicts the meeting of four African American icons.
For her directorial debut, Oscar-winning actress Regina King chooses to adapt Kemp Powers’ stage play One Night in Miami. Inspired by real events, the story is centered around the meeting between African American icons Cassius Clay, Sam Cooke, NFL star Jim Brown and Malcolm X, in Miami, right after Clay has won the World Champion title.
All characters are experiencing a moment of significant uncertainty, as they struggle to understand who they are. Cassius Clay is about to announce his conversion to Islam, Jim Brown considers leaving the NFL to pursue a career in Hollywood, whilst Malcolm X accuses Sam Cooke of not using his music as a tool for the cause of Black people.
One Night in Miami feels like a classic play and, in its screen version, follows the tradition of films adapted from the theatre: there is only one setting in which the characters move, although some scenes were added to give a more cinematic feel to the text.
The strength of the film lays in the actors’ performance: Kingsley Ben-Adir as a ruminative Malcolm X, Leslie Odom Jr as an often moving Sam Cooke, Eli Goree playing a charismatic but also doubtful Cassius Clay, and Aldis Hodge as the more moderate Jim Brown. The dialogues between the four are particularly remarkable, the exchanges between Malcolm X and Sam Cooke being significantly affecting.
One of the scenes that stands out is that of Malcolm playing Blowin’ In the Wind from a record player to a speechless Sam Cooke, asking why a song by a white man speaks to the Civil Rights movement in a way that Cooke’s songs never do.
Cooke’s character is the opposite of that of Malcolm X: whilst one believes that coexistence between white and black people is possible, the other refuses this idea. Their contrast of beliefs is deeply explored by the text and by King’s camera, which focuses mainly on the two, while Cassius Clay and Jim Brown intervene in the clash.
King’s directing is dynamic as if to symbolise the moment of transition that the four men are experiencing. There is no stillness, no time to hesitate, a change must come. By the end, the four characters will have changed; only the world is still to follow.