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Four icons of black liberation argue racism and resistance in One Night in Miami

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One Night in Miami imagines a real life meeting between heroes of the Civil Rights Movement—and brings intense debates to life, says Antony Hamilton
Issue 2738
Aldis Hodge, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Leslie Odom Jr and Eli Goree in One Night in Miami
Aldis Hodge, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Leslie Odom Jr and Eli Goree in One Night in Miami

One Night in Miami is a powerful meeting of black icons and friends who hold nothing back when debating racism, resistance and what it means to be free.

It’s a fictionalised telling of a meeting between Malcolm X, American footballer player turned movie star Jim Brown, soul singer Sam Cooke and heavyweight boxer Muhammad Ali.

I started with a little hesitation, focusing on the specific portrayal of each character and whether they hit the mark.

But after a slow start that critical lens slipped away and I could see that this film was about so much more.

As an adaptation from a stage play it carries over really well.

The first act is about the racism the four icons are faced with. The second looks at what they are going to do about it.

The opening scenes show the blatant racism each has to deal with.

There’s the way casual way the word “nigger” is thrown at Brown after a seemingly friendly encounter. Or there’s a walkout of diners at the Copacabana when Cooke steps onto the stage.

How did Malcolm X think we could defeat racism?
How did Malcolm X think we could defeat racism?
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By the second act when Ali—then Cassius Clay—has just become world champion, Malcolm X invites the others to his hotel room to celebrate.

This is the time when they should be able to relax—there are no cameras, no expectations and no white people around.

Yet things heat up as Clay announces his decision to join the Nation of Islam (NOI).

Malcolm X berates Cooke for misusing his platform for his own benefit, and Brown squares up to one of Malcolm X’s bodyguards.

Cooke and Brown argue for economic freedom, while Malcolm X poses the need for organisation.

It’s the first time I’ve seen on screen a very real, heated and meaningful debate between black people about the nature of black power.

On top of this each character is well developed and has a depth of emotion and vulnerability, especially in the depiction of Malcolm X.

He had been silenced by the NOI for saying the Kennedy assassination was the “chickens coming home to roost”. He was about to leave, hoping to bring Clay with him.

The film brilliantly shows the stress that he must have been under, culminating in tears when alone with Brown.

By the end I felt energised and empowered thinking over the intensity of the debate while Cooke sings “A Change Is Gonna Come” for the first time.

It’s always difficult when tackling such huge questions to find a satisfying way to end given that there is no simple solution for racism.

I do have criticisms of the film, but I really don’t think they matter. It would be nit-picking over a film that does a great job at encouraging critical thought.

There are so many reasons—especially given the past year—why I recommend everyone to watch this.

One Night In Miami is available to stream now on Amazon Prime

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