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There are plenty of heavy-hitters involved with “One Night in Miami,” the feature-length directorial debut from Oscar winner Regina King — both figuratively and literally. It’s based on the play of the same name by Kemp Powers (“Soul”), an account of the real-life 1964 evening when boxer Cassius Clay won the Heavyweight Championship of the World but was unable to celebrate in Miami Beach because of racist Jim Crow laws. Instead, he spends the night in with pals Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, and football star Jim Brown. They’re played by Eli Goree (Clay), Kingsley Ben-Adir (Malcolm X), Leslie Odom Jr. (Cooke), and Aldis Hodge (Brown).
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Wrote Kate Erbland in her IndieWire review of the film, “After the fight and Cassius’ surprise win, the foursome gather to celebrate, and what unfolds is a vivid, reflective chamber piece in which each man becomes emblematic of themselves and the greater changes that are coming to the world. It’s a film that requires hairpin tonal shifts, as the guys’ bonding turns from bonhomie to bruising allegations and back again with increasing regularity. King is more than up to the task, as is her cast, and the film vacillates between feelings and tones with a chatty, very real ease.”
The film takes place in one hotel room, but King and Powers make it feel like a much bigger world than that, Erbland wrote after the film’s 2020 Venice Film Festival premiere: “While King and Powers aren’t attempting to offer a precise historical transcription of whatever happened that fateful night, what ‘One Night in Miami’ provides is something richer: an emotionally accurate telling, one that always endeavors to find the real people underneath the famous gloss. ‘One Night in Miami’ hits so hard because it remains joyfully, often painfully grounded in what makes a person extraordinary, even when the world isn’t ready for them. Here’s hoping this world is ready for what King has to show it.”
“One Night In Miami” is already cleaning up on the awards trail: It got three Golden Globe nominations (for King’s directing, Odom’s performance, and Odom’s original song), two SAGs (for Odom’s role and for the ensemble’s performance), plus inclusion among the AFI Awards Movies of the Year, the Film Independent Spirit Awards’ Robert Altman prize, and dozens of critics’ association awards.
While King is a seasoned television director, this is her first time at the helm of a feature. But Ben-Adir, who workshopped the role of Malcolm X with King for two weeks before he officially booked the job, said he had never felt more comfortable on a set and wants to work with her again immediately.
“Regina is the only reason why we were able to achieve the most emotionally impactful moments, the only reason why we were — I have to speak for myself — able to have a consistent emotional throughline was because she let us play,” the actor told Erbland in a recent IndieWire interview. “She set up to shoot so we could play. She put us first, she put the actors first. I have never experienced anything even close to that on a set before.”
For more about the film, check out Tambay Obenson’s roundtable interview with the four leads here.