'One Night In Miami' Review With Casey Allen
One Night in Miami is a powerful portrait of the anxieties and hopes of Black Americans in the 1960s, and it has strong connections to the culture of today. This film is adapted from a one-act play, written by an African American man Kemp Powers (who also worked on the screenplay), that was first produced in 2013 in Los Angeles. The story is a fictionalized gathering of four famous African American men celebrating in a motel room together in 1964.
Political revolutionary Malcolm X, boxing champion Muhammad Ali, football hero Jim Brown, and soul musician Sam Cooke are the real-life characters, and much of their dialogue centers around their real-life events. Discussions range from popular music to the nation of Islam, and verbal disputes reveal hidden truths about each man's future. Of course, a film about the struggle of 20th century Black Americans is not new. But using the lives of four, Black, household names to simultaneously reflect those struggles so intimately and so successfully is very new.
Because this film is directed with such sensitivity, it doesn't feel overzealous or clumsy. It doesn't explore the same two or three emotions from start to finish, and it doesn't force the plight of the Black American down your throat (partly due to the dynamic writing by Kemp Powers). Some films adapted from stage productions can feel monotonous or claustrophobic (see Carnage from 2011 or Fences from 2016). But One Night in Miami varies its physical setting well enough that it's visually entertaining. And the film highlights the numerous emotional nuances of the main characters with patience and affirmation, so each actor remains captivating. Its director, actress Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk, 2018), is clearly not afraid of the emotional nuance which helps the film avoid becoming a sausage fest of men declaring their masculinity and competitive strengths as the greatest gifts to humanity.
Other directors could learn a lot from One Night in Miami and hopefully will embrace the challenges of graceful storytelling through complex characters who are written with such care. This film is fully deserving of all the Oscar buzz it's getting.