Let’s go back to 1964. On 25 February, in Miami Beach, Florida, boxing’s heavyweight champion Sonny Liston met with a young Cassius Clay for the first of their two famed matches. Clay, the underdog, emerged victorious and earned the championship title. This formed the launching pad for one of the most prolific boxing careers of all time – he would, of course, go on to become known as Muhammad Ali.
One Night in Miami makes for a sterling directorial debut from Regina King. The film tells a fictional account of what happened before and after the fight on that remarkable day. It follows Clay, played by Eli Goree, and tells the story of when he met up with his friends Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr) and Malcom X (Kingsley Ben-Adir). When they got together, they relaxed, debated, argued and celebrated each other and their achievements. Afterall, each one of them was a celebrity in their own right. However, to each other, they were simply just friends who were unafraid to challenge each other.
Adapted from his play, acclaimed screenwriter Kemp Powers (who also co-directed Pixar’s Soul) peppers this imagined scenario with historical facts and truths about each one of these powerful leads. In this imagining, he addressed the things they would have said to each other and somehow, his writing is able to find an emotional accuracy.
The result is a riveting drama that has left audiences in awe. One Night in Miami gives us the opportunity to sit with these iconic Black men and to listen to what they have to say as they engage with one another with the honesty and freedom that they can enjoy only without the presence of White America. While the story itself is fictional, each character is well-rounded. Not one of them hides behind a mask and each one dives straight into invigorating, eye-opening conversations.
Overall, the film is simply very good. The performances by the actors are memorable indeed and Regina King’s accomplishments with this film are astounding for any director, let alone a first-time one. The characters are impactful – they had to be, and no one misses the mark in One Night in Miami. Muhammad Ali’s boxing career was legendary. No one before him or since has ever achieved quite as much as he did, even with the same – or more – training. Sam Cooke was arguably one of the biggest singers of his time. Malcom X was one of the most electrifying human rights activists and Jim Brown was undoubtedly one of the biggest stars of the NFL during that period.
One of the greatest joys in watching this movie comes from simply sitting back and listening to the conversation flow between these four giants. It’s as smooth as when you buy Bitcoin instantly. Regina King has created a masterpiece that allows for a nurturing space for these characters to shine. She frames precious moments beautifully and gives her cast the space to tell their story unapologetically, in a way that has never been seen before. One Night in Miami is a sure-fire hit for King, and it leaves us wanting for whatever it is that she does next.