Since making her acting debut on the hit series 227 in 1985 at the tender age of 14, Regina King has amassed a resume on par with any actress since. With four Emmy awards and an Oscar to her credit, Ms. King has established a career few have ever come close to having. With her directorial debut helming the incredible docudrama One Night in Miami, you can now add acclaimed director to her list of stellar accomplishments.
One Night in Miami takes place the night a 22-year-old Cassius Clay, before he changed his name to Muhammad Ali, defeated Sonny Liston to win the heavyweight championship of the world on February 25, 1964. After totally emasculating the then-baddest man on the planet, the soon-to-be Ali and his three closest friends at the time, Jim Brown, Sam Cooke and Malcolm X, congregated in Malcolm’s hotel room for what was supposed to be a victory party. Instead, as mentioned in both Cooke’s and Ali’s biographies, it turned into a philosophical meeting of four of the greatest men who ever lived. All four men being Black.
Ali, Malcolm, Brown and Cooke having a meeting of the minds is akin to if today LeBron James, Floyd Mayweather, Barack Obama and Kendrick Lamar would sit down and break bread in a similar fashion. The way Ms. King’s directed the quartet’s interaction is Broadway theater-esque. It only made sense for her to shoot the conversations between the four men as such, for the movie was originally written as a play by the movie’s screenwriter, Kemp Powers. Powers script is flawless as he captures each icon’s language and subtleties like a true student of 1960s pop culture and history.
Then there is the acting. Eli Goree is sensational as the young ambitious and lovable Cassius Clay, as he captures both the Louisville cadence and mannerisms of a young Ali. His portrayal is unparalleled and completely puts to shame Will Smith’s portrayal of Ali in the 2001 Michael Mann biopic. Goree shows you just how playful Ali was, and his desire to please everyone. As hard as Smith tried, he never captured these wonderful qualities of Ali in his portrayal. Goree shared a trait with the other three actors that always stands out in he ability to express emotions with his eyes without uttering a word.
Leslie Odom is one of the outstanding Broadway theater actors of the last decade. His portrayal of Aaron Burr in the critically acclaimed Broadway play Hamilton was the single greatest performance I’ve ever seen in a musical I attended. He is equally powerful as Sam Cooke in this movie. His scenes with Kingsley Ben-Adir’s Malcolm X are the most poignant and heart wrenching scenes of the movie. Ben-Adir, though not as charismatic as Denzel Washington was in his portrayal of the legendary activist, brings out Malcolm’s want of Black self-empowerment and unity to the fullest. Cooke & Malcolm’s various debates on ideology throughout the movie makes the viewer wish they were in that hotel room listening to these icons speak. It was that riveting.
The fourth member of the cast, Aldis Hodge, is also amazing as NFL great Jim Brown. Hodge, like Goree did with Ali, captures a young Brown perfectly. Even his mannerisms and movements also mirror the legendary running back. Jim Brown to this day always expresses himself as a proud Black man, and Hodge captures that pride and confidence that helped make Brown one of the greatest athletes to ever walk the Earth.
One Night in Miami is the epitome of sports docudramas. It captures four men at the height of their respective careers, but also captures the love and respect of four powerful Black men who despite their differences, all want equality and empowerment for Black people in the volatile 1960s. In 2021, these are goals that are still vital. Goree, Odom, Ben-Adir, and Hodge bring their larger than life careers to the screen with impeccable authenticity. I see all four men continuing to amaze audiences with their acting for years to come. The same can be said for Ms. King as a director and Powers as a screenwriter/director.