Leslie Odom Jr., Eli Goree, Kingsley Ben-Adir and Aldis Hodge (L-R) star in “One Night in Miami,” which hits select theaters on Jan. 8 and Amazon Prime Video on Jan. 15 (Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios).
A Night with Kings
Many righteous brothers and sisters in the African-American community have stopped calling each other the N-word, or even brothers and sisters for that matter.
Those who have some level of consciousness have begun referring to their brothers and sisters as kings and queens to honor the regal heritage of the descendants of African royalty.
However, true kings do not necessarily have to come from a regal bloodline as the Regina King-directed film “One Night in Miami” shows.
Being a true king comes from taking one’s gifts and using it for the betterment of one’s community, even if it puts one’s life and/or career in jeopardy.
In 2021, one would find it difficult to find people of a certain age who do not know about the legendary lives and careers of Nation of Islam minister Malcolm X, football star/actor Jim Brown, soul singer Sam Cooke and the greatest boxer of all time, Muhammad Ali (Cassius Clay).
Many sports fans and students of African-American history know of the tight friendship that Ali once shared with Malcolm before his mentor left Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam to start his own religious organization, Muslim Mosque, Inc.
Many sports fans know the story of how unapologetically Black that Brown was during his career with the Cleveland Browns and before that with Syracuse University, where he is also regarded as the greatest lacrosse player of all time.
And many music fans know about Cooke’s exploits behind a microphone and in the boardrooms of Hollywood.
But to be a fly on the wall when these four kings got together to celebrate, meditate and articulate on the struggles of the African-American community would be worth more than any speech, concert or sporting event.
And thanks to a fictional account of what happened the night Cassius Clay (Eli Goree) shook up the world by taking Sonny Liston’s heavyweight title in Amazon Prime Video’s “One Night in Miami,” students of history will get to be that coveted fly for 114 minutes.
And what a wonderful 114 minutes “One Night in Miami” is.
“One Night in Miami” has to be one of the best movies of 2020 and early 2021, next to “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” “Da 5 Bloods” and “Sound of Metal” to name a few.
The movie “One Night in Miami” begins in one pivotal year for all four of the aforementioned kings, 1963.
Cassius had begun to climb up the ranks of the heavyweight division.
Unfortunately, his playful nature in and out of the wrong has those in his corner nervous about him fighting better competition.
Cassius barely got away with showboating in the ring during his bout with Henry Cooper, and his trainer Angelo Dundee (Michael Imperioli) wants to make sure he is all business when he challenges Liston for the title.
Furthermore, people in Cassius’ camp like his sponsors The Louisville Group have become weary of their prized asset because of his growing friendship with Malcolm (Kingsley Ben-Adir).
Unlike civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm and the Black Muslims do not want to integrate with the White man and hold hands with little White boys and White girls.
Malcolm and the Black Muslims call the White man the devil, and want total separation of the races.
Since The Louisville Group consists of old, wealthy White men, the rhetoric from Malcolm X and his bond with Cassius is cause for concern.
More cause for concern is Malcolm’s tenuous relationship with Muhammad and the Nation of Islam.
When Malcolm describes the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Nov. 1963 as “chickens coming home to roost,” he is immediately suspended from the Nation.
After finding out about Muhammad’s infidelity, he wants to break away from the Nation with the help of ministers like Louis X (now Farrakhan) of Boston.
However, the loyalty that Black Muslims have for Muhammad made going against him a very dangerous proposition.
Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) has found great success singing harmless love songs to swooning crowds.
However, he incorporates code switching into his shows.
The soul crooner sings one way to White audiences and another to African-American audiences.
That strategy backfires when Cooke bombs at the famed Copacabana.
By the early 1960s, Brown (Aldis Hodge) has become the most beloved running back in NFL history, despite his militancy.
Nevertheless, Brown still is not welcomed into every White household because even some of his biggest White fans “do not allow niggers in their house.”
The pressure that each king has on their broad shoulders will hopefully take a back seat for at least one night in Miami, celebrating a new heavyweight champion of the world.
However, instead of a night of alcohol and women, what they get inside of Malcolm’s hotel room at the Hampton House in the Overtown section of Miami, is a night of reckoning for each of them and their role in the African-American struggle.
In “One Night in Miami,” each actor plays their particular king to near royal perfection with all the pomp and circumstance that a legend deserves.
When Ben-Adir tells Cooke that “we are fighting for our lives,” his voice inflections are almost identical to the former Nation of Islam minister’s voice inflections.
When Odom crosses his legs while getting interviewed by a talk show host, his mannerisms accurately mimic Cooke’s who would often cross his legs and make certain facial expressions during interviews.
Goree has Clay’s voice and playful antics down to a tee too in “One Night in Miami.”
And Hodge captures Brown’s seriousness exquisitely in “One Night in Miami” also.
It is a wonder that someone as playful as Clay could become such great friends with Brown and Malcolm.
However, that just shows the complexities of the man and how righteous he was about his fellow kings and queens from the African-American community.