Actress Regina King celebrates her feature film directing debut with a chamber drama: In ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI Muhammed Ali, Malcom X and friends debate. We’ll reveal in our review whether it works and what the Oscar chances are.
OT: One Night in Miami (USA 2020)
It is February 25, 1964: The young Cassius Clay (Eli Goree), who would soon become famous as Muhammad Ali, has just defeated the favored Sonny Liston (Aaron D. Alexander) in a boxing match and thus won the world heavyweight championship title . The audience is euphoric because of the sensational match and swarms the streets of the city celebrating. But not the world champion himself: Due to local segregation laws, he has to spend the night in the secluded Hampton House Motel in one of Miami’s historically black neighborhoods. There the boxer celebrates his victory with political activist Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), top singer Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) and football star Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge). The quartet has a lot to talk about…
Regina King is probably best known for her acting achievements – be it in series like “Southland” and “American Crime” or films as diverse as “Boyz n the Hood”, “Ray” and “Beale Street”. But King already has experience as a director – she has directed, among other things, two music videos, two episodes of “Scandal” and even six episodes of “Being Mary Jane”. With “One Night in Miami,” King is now celebrating her feature film directing debut, giving us the first concrete insight into what motivates her as a filmmaker: her debut is the film adaptation of a play by “Soul” co-director and author Kemp Powers . In the piece “One Night in Miami,” which premiered in 2013, he imagines what a night would have been like when the friends Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, Jim Brown and Cassius Clay tried to celebrate together after the latter’s world championship victory – but ultimately ideologically come together.
Leslie Odom Jr. takes on the role of Sam Cooke.
It was not by chance that Powers chose February 25, 1964 for his fictitious four-person argument: Shortly thereafter, Cassius Clay would officially join the Nation of Islam and achieve even greater fame as Muhammad Ali. He was inspired to do this by Malcolm X, who in turn was on the verge of distancing himself from the leadership of the political-religious movement. Just like Sam Cooke, who was at odds with himself over questions about success and political integrity, he would die just a year later. And sports star Jim Brown flirted with switching to acting to reach even more people and break down more career walls that were built for black people. King’s film adaptation of “One Night in Miami” is based on a script by Powers himself – and consequently the film retains the essence of the play: The fictional argument between four greats underlines that there is no singular black experience or view of things. The four friends are united by the fact that they all suffer from hatred, insults, prejudice and structural disadvantage – but how this manifests itself varies. And how they deal with it varies even more clearly: for some, it is a victory to penetrate white domains and normalize their presence. For the next person, enlightenment is the big goal. For others, anything under “painfully shaking up society” is pure failure. And then there is the position of the person who can’t quite decide.
“The fictional debate between four greats underlines that there is no singular black experience or view of things. The four friends are united by the fact that they all suffer from hatred, insults, prejudice and structural disadvantage – but how this manifests itself varies.”
“One Night in Miami” cannot (and does not want to) completely shed the theatrical roots of the material in the characterization: Cassius Clay, Malcolm Nevertheless, they are not simply ideological positions on two legs: through the delicate and emotional play of Eli Goree, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Leslie Odom Jr. and Aldis Hodge, the four characters gain an individual personality apart from their arguments and experiences. Ben-Adir in particular takes over the film several times by portraying Malcolm
“One Night in Miami” is a chamber play that takes place almost entirely in a hotel room.
Regina King’s direction gives the cast enough space to breathe despite the rapid-fire dialogues and pressed monologues: the looks and gestures between the lines are often more meaningful than the words themselves – and King constantly and carefully underlines the basic mood between the four through the camera work. As if it were a four-person verbal boxing match, the balance of power changes repeatedly. Alliances are formed, sometimes a more sharply presented argument, sometimes a more empathetic behavior, and King and camerawoman Tami Reiker win (“Beyond the Lights”) Accordingly, relax or move closer to the discussants. While this visual element is in place, the more cinematic elements are put on – new scenes such as a detailed prologue or individual flashbacks noticeably serve the purpose of transferring “One Night in Miami” from the stage into the cinematic, but often become cumbersome or narratively superfluous. This is partly to the detriment of Sam Cooke’s character drawing. Powers draws him in a slightly historically inaccurate way for dramaturgical reasons and gives him the argument that Malcolm X picks on him more than Clay and Brown (whose sporting achievements Malcolm also a necessary, metaphorical kick in the ass so that he develops more backbone. In accounting terms, the real Cooke didn’t need this.
“Regina King’s direction gives the cast enough space to breathe despite the rapid-fire dialogue and pressed monologues: often the looks and gestures between the lines are more meaningful than the words themselves.”
What seems milder in a purely chamber play and can also be explained as the perspective of both characters colored by the situation (in the heat of the moment they don’t discuss it entirely accurately), is given something tangible in the film through the prologue, flashbacks and epilogue. Demanding historical accuracy in a fictional encounter is undoubtedly risky – but the fact that a very influential person who has not been sufficiently recognized by music historiography is greatly simplified in a drama that points to the many difficult dilemmas faced by black public figures is still unfortunate Side effect.
Conclusion: Four fictionalized interpretations of real, historical figures who are friends struggle in powerful (occasionally very stilted) dialogues to find a common denominator about how they, as black people, can care not only for themselves, but also for all other people of their skin color. “One Night in Miami” is the milder but also more accessible Amazon version of the Netflix chamber drama “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”.
“One Night in Miami” is now available to stream on Amazon Prime.