It was about 15 years ago when Kemp Powers was reading the book Redemption Song: Muhammad Ali and the Spirit of the Sixties and encountered a paragraph that would alter his career. It was a tiny nugget that mentioned a February 1964 get-together between friends Malcolm X, Cassius Clay, Jim Brown and Sam Cooke. No one besides the lone survivor Brown knows what was said that night at a Miami hotel between Clay (who upset Sonny Liston earlier the same night and would soon join the Nation of Islam as Muhammad Ali) and these three other African American icons, but it left the journalist-turning-playwright Powers pondering… and soon enough, writing.
The resulting stage play, One Night in Miami, racked up awards after its 2013 premiere, and now a Regina King-directed film adaptation could be following in its path. The acclaimed film, also written by Powers, is a simmering drama driven by four powerhouse performances (Kingsley Ben-Adir as Malcolm X, Eli Goree as Ali, Aldis Hodge as Brown and Leslie Odom Jr. as Cooke) that not only depicts deep-cutting conflicts between the men about their responsibilities but speaks potently and openly to the experience of being a Black man in America.
“[It says] that it’s a complicated relationship. It always has been and it probably always will be,” Powers (Soul) says during a recent recent press day for the film (watch above). “We’re being told, ‘Why does it have to be Black? Why can’t you just be an American?’ But at the same time we’re being told that, we’re also being reminded on a daily basis how we’re not really ‘completely American’ or ‘American enough’ or ‘authentically American,’ and we’re often being reminded this by the children of immigrants who came here after us, who just happen to be white.”
“I’ve seen lots and lots of movies but I’ve never seen four brothers in a room having a conversation quite like this,” says Odom (Hamilton, Harriet).
The issues these men faced in 1964, sadly, are still painfully relevant today. The conversations probably wouldn’t be much different in 2021.
“It wouldn’t have been different if they met in 1940, it wouldn’t have been different in the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s, 2021,” said King, the If Beale Street Could Talk Oscar winner and Watchmen Emmy winner who makes her directorial debut with Miami. “I think the only thing that might be slightly different is that we are in a space now where Black people, we are embracing the idea that we don’t have to be apologetic, that we can express publicly how we feel about the systems that have been put into place.”
“This is a conversation amongst men that we would have today,” agrees Goree. “It’s an honest and sincere and vulnerable conversation amongst Black men about the issues that they’re facing. We’re often either shown as very aggressive or violent or super-suave and cool and unaffected or sexualized. There are different ways that we’re shown but rarely as just authentic and human and vulnerable as Black men.”
One Night in Miami is now streaming on Amazon Prime.
Watch the trailer:
— Video produced by Jen Kucsak and edited by Jason Fitzpatrick
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