‘One Night in Miami’: A private look into four Black icons

Courtesy of Amazon Studios

“One Night in Miami” is based on a real event that focuses on the night of Muhammad Ali’s — then named Cassius Clay — famous win against Sonny Liston on Feb. 25, 1964. Ali (Eli Goree) and his history-making friends, Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) and Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.), meet up that legendary night in a hotel room of the Hampton House. 

The film was originally based on a play with the same exact title written by Kemp Powers in 2013, the mind that would later become a writer and director for the Pixar film “Soul.” This play-to-film translation was made under Regina King’s vision. She and the cast created the project with the intention of not only creating art but to teach something. They, in an interview with Vanity Fair, talk about creating a film that shows people how to talk about the issues and conflicts that they face within the community amongst themselves. 

With that in mind now, it is obvious that it wasn’t made to be a one-size-fits-all film. When viewing it as someone outside the targeted audience, parts of the film were lost on me. It assumes it’s audience not only has an extensive understanding of each of the men’s histories but that there is some personal admiration for them. It had name drops and background close-ups of documents and details that I have no understanding of. That isn’t to say it wasn’t completely inaccessible. 

It’s highlight is in its climax. A question comes up in the group where they ask themselves and each other: how are each of them contributing to their community? It is a common question that everyone, especially people of color, face with themselves. The film’s climax mostly consisted of trying to answer all aspects of this question. While it is a heavy topic to incorporate, the film’s writing doesn’t once sacrifice the character’s dynamics for the sake of this point. It still remembers that these are characters who are friends with each other, adding bits of comic relief and close moments, making the generalized question personal to them.

The film itself is constantly overlaid in a warm yellow light, even in the night scenes, and is always really restricted to small groups and one-on-one conversations. The only time the lighting gets changed to a cool blue is when each of the main characters take a chance to be by themselves, conveying the real intensity of the overall question and fight between the friends with their eyes and body language. 

Even before they enter the hotel room, the film spends small moments to set up their stakes and keeps the private tone all throughout, even when the conversations happen in public places. There is minimal background music, relying heavily on the dialogue and character charisma instead to keep the audience engaged. It’s tone constantly bounces from serious and heavy to light within a few lines. The underlying tension and conflicts driven by the subplot of Malcolm’s active feeling of being in danger with the white society and the Nation of Islam.

Verdict: “One Night in Miami” is well worth viewing if you are in the mood to reflect on yourself and the world around you. It’s even better for those who fall into the targeted audience or those who at least have knowledge of the men’s histories. It is not the kind of film for casual viewing. It’s the kind of film that will earn an award and a place in political circles the same way films like “Walkout” or “Stand and Deliver” do for the Latino community. 


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