By Lois Browne
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One Night in Miami

This article is over 5 years, 9 months old
Issue 418

One Night In Miami captures the extraordinary night of 24 February 1964, after Cassius Clay — soon to be known as Muhammad Ali — won his first heavyweight world title.

To celebrate, Clay spent the night with his closest companions, in the form of activist and minister Malcolm X, American football player Jim Brown and soul singer Sam Cooke, all influential men all in their own right. This fictional take on what occurred that night is played out in a motel room and makes for an intense viewing experience.

Immediately touching upon the political are the bodyguards who are later on revealed to be part of the Nation of Islam. They debate a book about the colonial past of the white American wiping out the native Indians, before we are even introduced to the main figures of the evening.

There is great rapport between each of the characters, as Clay discusses his win in amusing fashion. Staying true to his youthful swagger, he utters, “Oh, my god, why am I so pretty?” sending an eruption of laughter through the crowd. The men eat ice cream, drink and joke around, enacting past incidents.

Though humour features in the production in healthy proportions, at its core playwright Kemp Powers and director Kwame Kwei-Armah consciously confront issues of black identity, racism, the role of the celebrity and Islamophobia. Clay is in the midst of transitioning to Islam. Cooke and Brown are not completely comfortable with the idea.

The discussions centre on the expression of blackness, the fluidity and complexities of racism and economic struggles of the black community resulting from discrimination. The contrasting views and approaches of how you handle these issues are highlighted by the constant tension between Malcolm X and Cooke, which comes to the forefront.

Nevertheless you understand that while their methods may contrast they are united in the struggle against racism.

What is most important about One Night In Miami is its relevance today in relation to the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as the fight against Islamophobia.

In a recent interview on BBC Radio 4 Kwei-Armah described the Black Lives Matter movement as being the second wave of the Civil Rights Movement, saying that unprecedented numbers of black people are being brutalised by the state. This is hard to deny. If anything is to be learnt from this performance, it is that we must use our history to guide us forward so we can battle intolerance and racism and stand in solidarity no matter our differences.

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