MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
There are films that attempt to tell a true story. Other films are “based on a true story”. One Night in Miami is “inspired by a true story”.
The true story is that on one night in Miami – February 25, 1964 – following Cassius Clay’s victory in the boxing ring over Sonny Liston, Cassius Clay (Goree), Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), and Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) spent a few hours together with Malcolm X (Ben-Adir) to celebrate.
What conversations took place between these four men is anyone’s guess, but playwright Kemp Powers created a play that not only respected and honored the contributions of each of these men but also pondered the significance of the moment. Regina King’s film spends its first 20 minutes with thumbnail sketches of how all four of them are facing decision points. Jim Brown’s fame as a running back with the Cleveland Browns was legendary, but he was beginning to consider a different kind of fame as a movie actor. Sam Cooke was creating his own music company and selling hit records, but still couldn’t crossover to a white audience. Malcolm X was preaching prophetic and powerful sermons that stirred up strong feelings and created tension between him and the Nation of Islam’s Elijah Muhammed (Jerome Wilson) as well as pushback from the Southern Poverty Law Center and attacks from white racists. Cassius Clay was having religious epiphanies of his own, considering becoming Muslim. President John Kennedy had just been assassinated in November. (Offscreen, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was presenting another alternative to racism with peaceful resistance.)
But this night was a night of victory and these four men were in a good mood, kept laughing and engaged by the high spirits of the 22-year-old boxer. There is some initial dismay that Malcolm has no liquor in his motel room (and no female companions for his friends). He does have some vanilla ice cream in the mini-fridge. But they are happy to be together, challenging one another as they consider their options for the future.
One Night in Miami demonstrates that even with a world in racial tumult, there can be moments of empowering male friendship to be found in a shared safe place (kept extra safe by the bodyguards outside the door). The world today is sadly in need of more safe places in which to ponder the same issues of racism that haunt our nation. Our churches need to reclaim their role as this kind of sanctuary. I hope that this entertaining film finds a wide audience because we can all can find healing in the bravado of Muhammed Ali, the passion of Malcolm X, the strength of Jim Brown, and the music of Sam Cooke.
A change is gonna come.
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
Five halos: A history lesson with objective truths presented as a buddy movie.
Three pitchforks: Stark depictions of racism; racial epithets; violence; casual and frequent swearing.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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