One Night in Miami… (2020)
Dir: Regina King
Who is this about?
It’s a fictionalised account of Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.), Cassius Clay (Eli Goree) and Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) getting together.
When is this particular night?
February 25th 1964, the night of Cassius Clay’s world heavyweight title match against Sonny Liston. That’s a year before the events of ‘Selma’.
Where are they?
Miami, though they spend their time in Malcolm X’s hotel room or around it for the vast majority of the film. They think they’re there for an after-fight celebration, but really it turns into a meeting of minds, at times celebratory though they clash and hotly debate more than celebrate.
What do they talk about?
Essentially they consider their place in history and their roles in the civil rights movement. Right from its outset, the film sets up where these men are in their lives, but often within the context of facing racial issues, one scene of which had a moment of shocking racism. Later on, the men voice their concerns, hopes and plans with each other.
How well does the film balance these four legendary characters?
Very well indeed. To have four evenly leading characters like this is impressive. The screenplay was adapted by Kemp Powers from his stage play, and so it’s tried and tested, he’s put a lot of thought and work into making sure each character can speak their mind and nobody gets pushed into the background. That being said, it’s interesting that only one of these performances, Leslie Odom Jr’s, has been nominated for an Oscar. I think it’s likely the Academy’s way of making up for the fact that ‘Hamilton‘ was considered ineligible, as Leslie Odom Jr’s role as Aaron Burr was thought to be likely to be nominated if the film were considered eligible. I’m not saying his performance shouldn’t be nominated, but I don’t see how it can be singled out as standing out far above any other.
Why is it worth watching four men sitting in a hotel room talking?
There’s more to the film than just that. Early scenes set up where each man is in his life and career, all at peaks, and potentially on the precipice of change. It’s a fascinating meeting of minds, though fictionalised, that gives voice to thoughts and perspectives on the era. It’s the context that informs our understanding of many of this year’s other Award-nominated films and even current affairs. It’s a shame there’s so much strong language, as if this wasn’t an R-rated film, I could imagine it being shown for educational purposes in schools, and I feel like that’s a missed opportunity.
‘One Night in Miami…’ is nominated for 3 Oscars at the 2021 Academy Awards, for Leslie Odom Jr’s supporting role, his Original Song ‘Speak Now’ which is excellent, and Kemp Powers’ Adapted Screenplay (he’s also one of the writers for Pixar’s ‘Soul’ so he’s having a great year). It won’t get a clean sweep, but the screenplay and song are the best shots at taking home awards next month.