I’ve always admired Regina King the actor, but now her time has come to be Regina King: the director. King has been killing it year after year in shows like Southland and American Crime, and has even directed a handful of episodes of TV. But with One Night in Miami, she has cemented her legacy as an all around Hollywood talent.
One Night in Miami is a hard film to describe, as it’s based off of a play which is loosely based off of real-life events. In summation: imagine Malcolm X, Jim Brown, Muhammad Ali, and Sam Cooke all in a room together, during the height of the civil rights movement, and the conversations that would entail. It’s a fascinating premise, and the actors playing the four aforementioned rules knock it out of the park.
A lot of the first hour is tablesetting: glorious tablesetting. Ali (at the time, known as Cassius Clay) is fresh off of his major win against Sonny Liston and about to announce his conversion, Brown is looking to make the shift from NFL to movie star, Cooke is looking for the next musical hit of his career, and Malcolm X is aiming to break away from the Nation of Islam and form his own organization.
Every single person is at a crossroads, which makes each of them extremely volatile. All of the actors rise to the occasion to showcase the initial joy of meeting one another, breaking bread as friends; followed by the strife that ensues, exacerbated by the heavy burden of white society. By the time the first hour strikes, we’re off the races at the midway mark, as the honeymoon is over, and conflict arises.
King allows us to linger when it’s important to do so. Seeing as this is ostensibly a stage play in film form, it can be tough to really figure out how to focus on certain characters, or draw back and show the entire room at once. We get to see each actor shine as well as the reactions on their faces, which draws us into the inner turmoil of each person. Writer Kemp Powers deserves a lot of credit for adapting this play into a very digestible few hours as well.
It’s all a big dance, and King and Kemp manage to tango with the best of them. One Night in Miami is mostly a conversation between four peers, but it manages to strike a chord even today. If you’re even remotely interested in any of these historical figures, it’s worth a watch.