Today marks what would have been the 79th birthday of the greatest boxing icon in history. Muhammad Ali was a profound personality that transcended his sport and did things to elevate his people during a time of extreme racial injustice.
It makes one wonder what Ali would have been like in the year 2020 with the social injustice movements such as Black Lives Matter and more against the police brutality against George Floyd.
Regina King, who celebrated her 50th birthday, last Friday (January 15th), also had her directorial debut release on the same day. The storytelling of the film however is very powerful and sends a real poignant message. As tomorrow looms with the holiday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, we see the era of promise and also struggle for equality where he was killed before he could see his dream in the likes of a future black president in Barack Obama. Sam Cooke and Malcolm X were also in this time period, but also saw the same fate of murder.
We are taken to a time when the civil rights movement was still in its infancy, but the rise of black celebrities was taking root with Muhammad Ali (Eli Goree), Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr), Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), and Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir). It is a telling story of seeing the icons in a very human like aspect that goes behind the scenes of a night where all men released their emotions of praise and setbacks of being in the position they were in at that particular time.
The actors had a hefty challenge ahead of them in trying to capture the enigma of all the greats in real life and in cinema. Malcolm X was played by the iconic Denzel Washington to a masterpiece and Will Smith also scored big with the approval of Ali himself in his biopic.
Sam Cooke was a top charting superstar in his day and his performances can still be seen anytime by anyone who just types his name into the youtube search engine. Jim Brown has also done some acting himself to say the least which also provided nuance to someone else playing the NFL great who smashed records as a Cleveland Brown player. The actors delivered their roles and brought something fresh to the well known celebrities.
Adapting his play, screenwriter Kemp Powers mingles with historical facts and truths about each of his characters. He imagines what they said to each other during their real-life meeting, the dramatic license adds to its profound scenario that viewers can take seeing what the icons had to go through.
Muhammad Ali start the movie in the boxing ring and is one of the most popular men in history. Born as Cassius Clay, he is seeking ways of bettering his life spiritually as he gets groomed to become Muslim through Malcolm X. The man who would become the champ struggles with his religion and public status which may cause a clash where it will bring him even more hatred for his flashy style and braggart ways.
At the same time, we see Malcolm X struggling with his religion in having the issue of staying true to his teacher or true to the tenants of Islam as he discovers some unflattering things about the leader of the Nation of Islam.
Sam Cooke’s story in the film is quite timeless as he faces the struggle of trying to be a pop sensation, but also remembering where he came from with creating music to fit different listeners. During one segment in the film this becomes quite clear once Malcolm X raises the questions to these men on where exactly they can improve the movement for the black culture in the 1960’s.
Jim Brown is the classic case of another athlete trying to balance the real life problems of racism, but also being a beacon of light that inspires young kids in the neighborhoods across the United States.
We get to see some musical and sporting scenes in the movie, but the real meat of the story is seeing these legendary figures presented in a way that viewers are a fly on the wall in a hotel room seeing the humanistic traits of handling fame, racism, power, and uncertainty of the future of their people.
The movie’s strong point is that you could easily see any top rapper today and athletes having the same tension in the year 2020 when their was a huge uprising for social justice against racism. What if the men in the film were replaced by the likes of the hip hop billionaire Jay Z, NBA icon Lebron James, or a Kendrick Lamar? The film is a good watch for historians and a lesson that can be used by today’s audience about using your platform for change.
One Night in Miami.
Rated R. Smoking and Swearing. Running time: 1 hour 54 minutes. Watch on Amazon.