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The Lasting Impression of “One Night in Miami...”
January 27, 2021
Regina King has done it yet again.
After exhibiting an unparalleled level of talent onscreen, in her rightfully awarded performances in both HBO’s Watchmen and Barry Jenkin’s If Beale Street Could Talk, Regina King has now stepped behind camera to prove that there are few things she cannot do. “One Night in Miami…” is her first foray into direction, and the success of the movie can be likened to someone doing a triple axel their first time trying on ice skates. Although she worked directed for television shows such as Scandal, the leap to a major movie such as this is monumentally difficult. Without mincing words, if Regina King does not win an Oscar for this movie you will be hearing from me about it.
Why is this movie so important? Well first, let’s flashback to to the distant year of 2019, when Hollywood stood up and applauded itself for awarding the film ”Green Book” with the highest cinematic honor, Best Picture. This movie, which was written and directed by white men, attempted to tell a story of unity between Black and White, specifically, between a young Tony Lip, and legendary musician Don Shirley. The film ultimately failed to impress the actual family of Don Shirley and many viewers as a whole. Looking at a shot of the cast and crew will tell you exactly why.
One Night in Miami… did not frame the racism and bigotry as something that could be solved by quality time spent between individuals. Instead, it featured four different legends of Black History together in one room disagreeing for about 2/3 of the film. The conversations in One Night in Miami…, between Cassius Clay, Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, and Jim Brown are conversations that are as relevant in 1964 as they are in 2021. The men, each a shining example of excellence in their respected fields, represented different how one movement can have different ideologies and approaches. It was also refreshing to see a movie about the Black experience that featured several icons at their best, without any unnecessary trauma. Essentially, it was a story that could only be told by someone who understood the complexities of what it means to be not only Black in America, but also in the national spotlight.
But there’s also a tragic timelessness to the discourse presented in the film. Over the past few years, there has been an emergence of media that has been described as “of the moment”. This description seems to have really surged during the Trump Era, when police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement became something that White Americans could no longer ignore. While some of these films, such as Blindspotting or If Beale Street Could Talk are actually underrated masterpieces, these stories have been “of the moment” long before Trump was elected.
Sam Cooke and Malcolm X argue when Malcolm criticizes Sam’s not being outspoken, and his need to be accepted by White audiences. Many Black artists and athletes have struggled with the aftermath of making political statements: think Colin Kaepernick’s anthem protest or Beyoncé’s Black Panther inspired Super Bowl performance, both of which forced white audiences to face harsh truths about police brutality and racial inequality. Similarly, Jim Brown brings up the still prevalent issue of colorism in the Black Community.
But using words like “relevant” and “importance” can also diminish the cinematic value of the film. It’s not only the story that makes the movie excellent, but the way that it was told. Each performance is as nuanced as the last. Kingsley Ben-Adir, Aldis Hodge, and Eli Goree all brought great life to these historical figures, but Leslie Odom Jr.’s musicality and effervescence may have put him over the edge as the biggest award contender. The script, penned by the original playwright and recent Soul co-director Kemp Powers was razor sharp. The movie did not suffer from that “originally written as a play” feel that other movies of this nature have suffered from.
Putting aside my Regina King bias, this movie is really that good.