One Night in Miami

Year: 2020
Studio: Amazon Studios
Director: Regina King
Writer: Kemp Powers
Cast: Eli Goree, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Aldis Hodge, Leslie Odom Jr

I'm not sure whether the meeting depicted actually took place or whether it did so according to the chronology depicted here, but even if I didn't I still got a lot out of this film.

I'm never quite sure what a white kid growing up in the Australia in the 70s and 80s (who had almost no exposure to real black people) finds so interesting in stories about the African American struggle for racial justice and equality, but the meeting of four prominent black figures in a Miami hotel was done with panache, style, chemistry and energy.

We meet the four principals in scenes that show us where they are in their lives. Muhammad Ali, still known as Cassius Clay (Eli Goree) barely scrapes through to the end of a London Boxing match. Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr) performs his heart out at the Copacabana nightclub to a frosty, all-white audience.

Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) visits a family friend at a vast plantation, received like a hero for his inspirational football career but reminded in short order of his place in a racist society. And Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir) returns home from a sermon and argues with his wife Betty about his impending decision to leave the Nation of Islam after his change of heart.

Later on, Ali has just won one of his early bouts and he insists his friend Malcolm accompany him to the motel where they're staying to celebrate. Cooke and Brown make up the foursome, and when they expect a night of drinking and girls, they're disappointed to learn that Malcolm instead intends to sermonise, preach and pray.

With his security shadowing him all over the hotel, things get heated. Clay tells the group about his impending conversion to Islam – even while Malcolm is preparing to leave. Malcolm thinks Sam has sold out his race by the kind of music he performs. Sam contends that because he's a producer and copyright owner he's a success by any measure. And Brown, in the midst of leaving football to take up acting, isn't sure about the future at all.

Tensions rise, soul searching ensures, and the plot moves the characters around so they can all have their individual moments to shine or interact with each other. They're all brilliantly written and acted parts, and the magic is in the way they bounce (or spark) off each other. There's not a lot to say about the plot because it's all just foil for the ideas about racism, acceptance, fame, success and equality to be bought to life.

First time director Regina King sets and dresses the mid sixties beautifully in the period detail as well as a golden-hued, slightly fairytale-esque light, but despite her obvious talent it's not a director's showcase. It's one for the four leads, and they shine bright.

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