One Night in Miami review: Regina King’s magnum opus

Eli Goree stars in ONE NIGHT IN MIAMIPhoto: Patti Perret/Amazon Studios
Eli Goree stars in ONE NIGHT IN MIAMIPhoto: Patti Perret/Amazon Studios /

Oscar and multiple Emmy winner Regina King has released her greatest work in One Night in Miami.

One Night in Miami was released into theaters on Christmas day, however, with COVID still running rampant many of us were unable or unwilling to catch it. That means that when Regina King’s directorial debut moved to Amazon Prime this weekend, it was the first chance many of us had to see what the hype was about.

Being billed as Oscar material, many eyes were ready to see if One Night in Miami delivered, and if the Rotten Tomatoes ratings (98% fresh from critics, 84% from audiences) are any indication, it did. Not only is Regina King being pushed as an Oscar contender but so are Kemp Powers and the cast. The movie has a strong possibility of being nominated for Best Picture as well.

One Night in Miami is an interesting movie. It’s a historical drama about a night Muhammad Ali ( still going by Cassius Clay at the time), Sam Cooke, Malcolm X, and Jim Brown spent together. Now, this sounds made up but the night did actually occur.

The only problem is, two of the men were killed within a year of that night and the other two never spoke about what happened in that hotel room. With Ali having passed away within recent years as well, only Brown is left to tell the real story about what happened, and all indications are that he never will.

Regina King's One Night in Miami image
ALDIS HODGE and LESLIE ODOM JR. star in ONE NIGHT IN MIAMIPhoto: Patti PerretCourtesy of Amazon Studios /

That leaves things up to our imaginations and Kemp Powers (Soul) does an amazing job of filling in the blanks in a way that is both believable and incredibly riveting.

Regina King and the cast bring Kemp Powers story to life in a powerful way

At the beginning of the film, our men are not all together. For those that may not be familiar with them individually, we get a brief introduction into how their lives were going leading up to the night in question.

For Jim Brown, played by Aldis Hodge (The Invisible Man) that means setting the NFL single-season rushing yards record but being reminded that he is a second-class citizen when he returns to his hometown. For Sam Cooke, played by Leslie Odom, Jr (Hamilton) that means being incredibly successful, but playing the Copa Cabana for a completely white audience and bombing. For a young Cassius Clay, played masterfully by Eli Goree (Race, The 100) that means being knocked down in the ring by an opponent he’s clearly better than.

For Malcolm X, played by Kingsley Ben-Adir (The OA), that means seeing that he is having issues with the Nation of Islam and is paranoid about what that means for his future. All of these things are important as we lead up to the night in question.

One Night in Miami — Courtesy of Amazon Studios
One Night in Miami — Courtesy of Amazon Studios /

The night takes place in February of 1964. The night that Cassius Clay defeated Sonny Liston to become the heavyweight champion. Cassius had not yet changed his name to Muhammad Ali and his conversion to Islam had been kept private up to this point. The men were all part of Clay’s entourage with Malcolm X serving as his spiritual advisor.

After the fight, the group was to get together for what Brown and Cooke thought was going to be a party, but Malcolm X had other plans. In the room, Malcolm wanted to have a real discussion about who these men were and the power that they had to make a difference in the fight for black equality.

The other men were resistant to this at first but what happens is a very powerful discussion about what is the right approach to helping out in the fight for equality. X, being the elder statesman of the group was by far the most outspoken and had the least to lose (financially) in being so. Each man feels that they have contributed in their own way, though each has a very different approach and rationale for what they’ve been doing.

The beauty in the way the story is told is how natural the conversations seem. You can tell these men all have great respect for each other but, as with any friend group, the dynamics are different depending on who is in the room. Natural moments happen that allow us to see these different dynamics play out and learn little tidbits about the story of each man.

What I loved most about this movie is that we get to see these men as powerful, while also seeing them each be vulnerable. It’s this range that makes them feel so completely realized and human. Though most of the film takes place inside the room, Regina King does an amazing job of making any transition away seamless. Unlike Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (another film based on a play) this movie did not feel like a play at all.

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To take something as simple as a conversation about being a successful black man in a segregated America and make it entertaining for over an hour and a half, that’s worthy of praise. Regina King and Kemp Powers combined to make a movie worthy of all of the praise it will receive. Though each actor had strong moments, it’s Goree’s turn as Clay that will likely get the most headlines, while Odom Jr’s singing will likely catch your attention as well.

We don’t have any confirmation that the events depicted are anything close to reality, but based on what happened for each man afterward, I’m willing to bet they are close.

One Night in Miami is a must-watch and can be streamed on Amazon Prime.