One Night In Miami Review
In 2019, Green Book won Best Picture at the Oscars, and was rightfully met with a lot of criticism, with Spike Lee commenting that “Driving Miss Daisy won again” and similar criticism also levelled against it from all directions. In the film, Viggo Mortenson’s Tony Lip, learned how not to be a racist bigot, as a friendship blossoms with Mahershala Ali’s Dr Donald Shirley. They were separated by class and education as well as race, and while it somehow charmed Academy voters, it was really a white man’s story. Is this the sort of film that should have won Best Picture in a world that is now supposed to be more aware of racial disparity? The same criticism cannot be levelled against One Night In Miami, a strong contender for at least the acting gongs at this years Oscars, if not anything else, as the cut off for qualification has been extended through to the end of February.
It’s been a banner year for play adaptations too, as The Boys in the Band and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom both enjoyed notable remakes and now this, all produced by streaming services and putting gay and Black people centre screen to tell their stories. Both the writing of playwright August Wilson (writer of Fences and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom) and Mart Crowley (The Boys in the Band) can be felt in the influences of how Kemp Powers has formed One Night In Miami, as well-known stars are stripped back to normal people, and the interplay between them being a symptom of where they’ve come from as much as what they have become.
One Night in Miami reimagines the night when four Black icons spent the night in a motel during a year in which they are all going through a drastic change. Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir) is moving away from the Nation of Islam as Cassius Clay (Eli Goree) is planning to join, Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) is conflicted by the direction of his music and Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) is considering quitting the NFL to become an actor. We open with four scenes of each one facing both casual and blatant racism in their lives, before they come together in the motel room after Clay has defeated Sonny Liston to win the Hwavyweight title, the space serving as the setting for the majority of the story.
Like most play adaptations this is a very dialogue heavy piece of work, and it demands concentration from the viewer to understand much of the context. There is none of the exposition you would get in something written solely for the screen, and while this can make One Night In Miami demanding, it also anchors this imaginary account of the meeting in reality. Director Regina King, an actor herself, gives her cast the room to work their way through the script, each scene and line given the room it needs to breathe.
Ben-Adir musters the conflict burning inside Malcolm X, as he is primarily the embodiment of calm, emphasised by his regular references to his Islamic faith. Occasionally his demeanour changes and the rage he carries is briefly exposed, which is beautifully performed and manifested by Ben-Adir, as he takes regular pauses to collect himself and his thoughts before continuing. In contrast, Goree’s Cassius Clay is confident and mouthy, with a schoolboy charm and overconfidence that is really its own mask again, with Hodge offering reserved strength and determination as Jim Brown. Coming from a place where he is constantly reminded of his position he weighs up his options and errs on the side of caution before making any rash statements or decisions.
Odom Jr’s Sam Cooke is perhaps the most conflicted, as with Malcolm X he meets his personal devil’s advocate. Odom Jr really shines in the musical scenes, as he lip syncs through Cooke’s songs the conflict and fear is clear to see on his face as he begins to take more musical risks. One scene in particular brings these two men together along with a room full of others, in a way that is so powerfully realised, it has to be seen to be believed.
Many arguments that have made it to the mainstream are raised, commenting on the insidiousness of white liberal America, differences in privilege amongst Black people due to colourism, and the pressures of being Black and successful in America. All these aspects come together to make One Night In Miami a moment of solidarity for Black people and hopefully something for white audiences to learn from. This film is a gift, make sure you pay attention.
One Night in Miami arrives on Amazon Prime January 15.