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Four Films to Pair with One Night in Miami
Feeling inspired by the Oscar Winner? Check out these complimentary picks.
Regina King’s directorial debut One Night in Miami… lands on Amazon Prime today. Following four black cultural heroes on one night in 1964, King’s picture is eyeing the Academy Awards. On top of its sharp design elements and the theatrically bare bones script that boasts no fluff, the film is receiving acclaim for the four lead portrayals of Cassius Clay, Jim Brown, Sam Cooke, and Malcolm X. It would be so easy to portray the soon-to-be Muhammad Ali as a cartoon character, but Canadian Eli Goree finds the humanity in his performance. Rising star Aldis Hodge plays Brown with a laser focus, exemplifying a masterclass in active listening — one of the hardest things to do as an actor. Leslie Odom Jr. gives an authentic soul to the King of the Soul Cooke, crooning throughout the picture as well as giving his most inspired performance since his run in Hamilton. British actor Kingsley Ben-Adir’s portrayal of X is receiving the most acclaim and for good reason — his portrait is not only convincing but grounding — a difficult feat for the personality of Malcom X.
If you watch and enjoy One Night in Miami…, you might be inspired to check out companion pieces revolving around the same men. Here are some picks for such an occasion.
Muhammad Ali: When We Were Kings (1996)
One Night in Miami… gives us a glimpse at young Cassius Clay on the night he shocked the globe and defeated Sonny Liston to become world heavyweight champion. Ten years later, many believed Ali to be past his prime. In the Rumble in the Jungle, where Ali challenged current champ George Forman to a bout in Zaire, he took his rightful title back. It’s fun to compare the fictional portrayal of a young Clay in the narrative to the older Ali in the documentary. He has found himself, found his personality, found his way of monologuing, found himself as a Muslim, a fighter, and a man — conversations that start in King’s narrative.
The Criterion Collection has remastered both the 70s fight footage and the 90s retrospective interviews and they flow interchangeably in this well-paced look at The Greatest.
Jim Brown: Three the Hard Way (1974)
One Night in Miami… teases at Jim Brown’s transition from Pro Bowler to Hollywood actor. Unfortunately, the character has probably the least to do of the quartet and aside from his retirement on the set of The Great Escape, his future acting career is only briefly mentioned.
Brown was in everything from westerns to adventure films, but is arguably best known for his roles in Blaxploitation cinema. 1974’s Three the Hard Way sees Brown teaming up with another footballer Fred Williamson and martial artist Jim Kelly as they investigate a white supremacist’s plot to poison the nation’s water supply in an attempt to eradicate black people. Hard to believe? No. Probably considered a far fetched idea outside of Black America for decades, the movie is maybe more timely than ever. It’s silly, yes. But also quite scary. And full of all the Blaxploitation tropes we’ve come to know and love.
Sam Cooke: The Two Killings of Sam Cooke (2019)
Netflix’s Remastered documentary is basically the perfect non-narrative companion to One Night in Miami. It addresses Cooke’s relationship with Brown, his curiosity in regards to Malcom X’s work, and his collaboration with Ali on the 1963 song The Gang’s All Here. It even mentions this infamous 1964 night spent at a Miami motel, but screenwriter Kemp Power’s narrative doesn’t exactly line up to the Cooke portrayed in the documentary. While Tony Winner Leslie Odom Jr.’s Cooke receives a lot of criticism from Malcom X for not using his platform for the advancement of black people, the documentary paints Cooke as a civil rights activist above all.
Despite its scandalous title, The Two Killings of Sam Cooke is barely about his tragic death. It is set up just like any other film biography and is much more tame than the title suggests. And it’s quite interesting to compare fact with fiction.
Malcolm X: Malcolm X (1992)
One Night in Miami… grooves by in just under two hours. Spike Lee’s historical epic Malcom X is nearly three and a half hours long and is, of course, entirely devoted to Malcolm and his life — as opposed to sharing a quarter of the screen time with the other cultural icons.
Malcolm X’s life was clearly provocative and took over a quarter century to reach the silver screen. After almost a dozen screenwriters, both black and white, the script landed on the desk of Norman Jewison — a white man best known for directing the classic In the Heat of the Night, starring Sidney Poitier. Spike Lee, never one to shy from sharing his feelings, found it egregious that a white man would tackle X’s life story. He campaigned to take the reins himself and after mounting a protest, got the job. After a few drafts of the screenplay from his own pen, Spike’s vision of Malcom’s time on Earth and his lasting legacy made its way to theaters. Despite its towering presence, the film was snubbed at the Oscars, losing both of its two nominations.
I learned so much about these four men from One Night in Miami… and so much more about them in exploring their lives through other films. Black history is not something that just happens in February, it is to be remembered every day. Both King’s picture and the companion suggestions here are a good place to start. You need to.