On March 26, 1964, Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X were both on Capitol Hill.
After meeting, for the very first time, Malcolm said to King, “I’m throwing myself into the heart of the civil rights struggle.”
After that meeting, the two were to influence each other’s points of view as Malcolm became more of a humanist and King was to become more militant.
It was almost as if they exchanged identities.
Although they never met again, another King connects with Malcolm X (the fictional one) to influence celluloid in what is possibly 2021’s most important film.
That King is Regina King; we’ll get to who Malcolm X is later.
Regina King’s film “One Night in Miami” is about an evening where four legendary personalities meet on February 25, 1964, in Miami Beach, Florida.
It is adapted from screenwriter Kemp Powers’ 90 minute one-act play by the same title.
Both play and film imagine what these four great men said to one another during their real-life meeting.
On that night, Cassius Clay (Eli Goree) knocks heavyweight boxing champion Sonny Liston (played here by Aaron D. Alexander) flat on his aging behind to become the new world champion at the age of 22.
The four men, embosomed by friendship and linked by celebrity, sit together in a hotel room to put Black America to rights. And enjoy Malcolm X’s only guilty pleasure: Ice Cream.
In this fly-on-the-wall account, we see the four friends engage each other with a sincerity which unmasks their fears, hopes, desires and thoughts.
As they do so, they remain true to each other. Or as Clay’s character puts it: “We have to be there for each other.”
This need to circle the wagons is brought home with clinical precision earlier on in the film when Brown, although a god on the football pitch, is reminded of his skin tone by Carlton (Beau Bridges).
Brown and Carlton are both from St. Simmons, Georgia, and Carlton says he’s proud to be from the same hometown as Brown.
They are getting along famously, enjoying lemonade on the porch, and then Brown offers to help Carlton move some furniture inside his house.
To this, Carlton replies: “You know we never allowed n–gers in the big house.”
Let’s jump-cut to when Clay, X, Brown and Cooke talk, shall we?
All of them pull no punches which, considering his profession, should’ve been a field day for Clay.
Instead, it’s Malcolm X who comes out swinging when he verbally assaults Cooke with everything he’s got, including the kitchen sink.
This is where the film really catches fire.
Kingsley Ben-Adir, as X, had to simulate or surpass Denzel Washington’s Malcolm X in Spike Lee’s 1992 masterpiece.
In this, he acquitted himself well by matching Washington in dramatic intensity, especially during the ensemble scenes.
However his aesthetic appeal falls slightly short simply because he lacks Washington’s matinee idol looks and charisma.
In one of the most exhilarating parts of the film though, the sound is pulled at Cooke’s music concert and, in the resounding silence; the crowd wants to tear him and the concert hall apart.
Thinking fast, Cooke tells the audience to stomp its feel to amplify the power of his a capella performance as he sings his hit song: “Chain Gang.”
The result, as Malcolm X points out, is the sheer vehemence of revolution being enacted by stomping feet.
Odom’s musical performance as Cooke is sublime, especially when he ends the film with Cooke’s classic Civil Rights anthem, “A Change Is Gonna Come.”
In the end, Regina King’s directorial debut assembles four legends in the manner a winning hand of poker consists of four Aces. So you know this movie is certainly a classic.