‘One Night in Miami’ review: four men with one goal in mind

Illustration by Adam Montes | The Signal

“One Night in Miami” takes four of the most influential figures in the late 1900s and puts them in one room for a bombastic display of political discourse and understanding. 

The film takes place on Feb. 25, 1964, the night Cassius Clay, better known as Muhammad Ali, won the heavyweight world title at the Miami Beach Convention Center. After Ali’s big win, he meets with his mentor and friend Malcolm X at a hotel where he was also joined by NFL superstar Jim Brown and music icon Sam Cooke.

At first glance, the film seems like a fictional tale of four of the most significant African Americans in history coexisting in one room for a night. However, the meetup did occur; we just don’t have many details on what happened during that one night in Miami.

With little knowledge of what actually happened, the magic of storytelling comes into play. Screenwriter Kemp Powers crafts a sophisticated dynamic between the four men based on real archival facts and emotional truths about each character. Powers entrenches a power dynamic between the men to drive the focal point around the appropriate measures taken to drive the civil rights movement.

With Regina King making her debut behind the camera, the stage play comes to life as a vibrant piece of cinema that harps on emotional authenticity without straying from its original subject matter.

With so many significant figures in one film, it would be challenging to identify and flesh out each character fully. King overcomes this lack of characterization by spending time on each man’s backstory, with discrimination being a central theme and creating a perfect segue into their discussion.

The discussion around racial discrimination is the prominent issue that pulls the film together into a cohesive paradigm that is more so influential than elegant in its structure.

Black icons’ rise became evident during this time as they started to seep their way into mainstream white audiences. This rise created a platform for stars such as Jim Brown, Cassius Clay and Sam Cooke. Yet the only person who seemed to be using their platform was Malcolm X.

After this identification, the debate becomes genuinely fascinating as each man delves deeper into their insecurities and forgivings at the white man’s hands. 

A massive shift within the conversation comes when Malcolm plays the Bob Dylan song, “Blowin’ in the Wind,” a number one chart-topper that references political protest. The fact that a white man is writing and singing about civic struggles before Cooke ever did is genuinely eye-opening to not only the men in the room but the audience as well.

The film ends with Cooke singing his song “A Change is Gonna Come,” showing a complete full-circle moment as he opens his objectives toward making a change in the world one song at a time.

The rendition is ever so relevant within our current political agenda as celebrities such as the film’s director, Regina King, fight to use their platform to advance the Black community. “One Night in Miami” is a timeless fly-on-the-wall drama that will speak with audiences on a generational level.