By Benjamin Berfield
One Night in Miami is a powerful new movie focusing on the events following Muhammad Ali’s (known as Cassius Clay) first major victory. Directed by Regina King and released on Amazon Prime, the film imagines what occurred when Malcolm X, Jim Brown, Sam Cooke, and Cassius Clay – four icons of the Civil Rights Movement – spend the night at a motel in Miami following the fight. The fictionalized version of this momentous gathering allows us to understand these outstanding men beyond how history has recorded them; they are brilliantly brought to life.
The year is 1964 and Cassius Clay had just become the heavyweight champion of the world following his victory over Sonny Liston. In attendance are Brown, Malcolm X, and Cooke to watch their friend pull off one of sport’s greatest upsets. All four men planned to celebrate that night at Malcolm X’s motel room, where the mood is ecstatic following Clay’s title. However, tensions rise between Malcolm X and Cooke as to whether and how they should be leaders of the Black community during the Civil Rights Movement. In addition, Clay becomes confused and angry when Malcolm X requests that he join his own Islamic organization rather than the Nation of Islam. The different journeys and opinions of these four prolific men give a voice to some of the numerous struggles faced during the Civil Rights Movement, bringing hope that change is on the way. In my opinion, this was a movie that was well-written and directed with fine detail from start to finish. The actors’ portrayal of the characters makes you feel like you’re in the motel room along with them. Clashes between Malcolm X and Cooke are also skillfully acted as they debate how they should go about the night: Cooke wants to celebrate Clay’s victory, but Malcolm X wants him to leverage it and convert to Islam. The simmering tension between their different personalities seems magnified in one small motel room throughout the film. All four men are prominent Black celebrities with different approaches as to how their race plays into the kind of person they want to be.
Before this movie was released, I knew a little bit about the events following Clay’s victory from reading Malcolm X’s autobiography, where he mentions spending the night with Brown and Clay. It was interesting to see a broader picture that expanded on the events, as it was only detailed in one sentence of the book. There were many talented actors, such as Leslie Odom Jr., who did a fantastic job meshing with one another. As for Regina King, the director of the movie, she did a wonderful job showing the different personalities of four strong-willed men and their different values. She has said that one of her goals while making this movie was to depict the kind of people these activists were. King tried to capture a side to these men that might be overlooked and exposes their vulnerability. Additionally, King was able to convey the range of emotion during the night, whether it was through debates between Malcolm X and Cooke, or Brown’s intimidating demeanor.
I recommend this movie to anyone who might be interested in Black history and character-driven stories. Especially in light of the Black Lives Matter movement, it is imperative that we educate ourselves about the triumphs and struggles of Black people throughout history, as well as acknowledge the need to make vital change.