Hours after the fateful victory, Mohammed Ali reunited with Malcolm X, Jim Brown, and Sam Cooke for a promised night of celebration. But around a rising boxing star, the three friends will explore, even if it means tearing themselves apart, the meaning of their social status and their weight in American society. For her first theatrical film One Night in Miami… , available on Amazon Prime Video since January 15, 2020, Regina King addresses a subject that is expected but less obvious than it appears.
With the resurgence of great racial and social tensions in the United States, Hollywood logically established itself as a soundboard for the debates that animate the American population. From historical films to pure fiction, cinema is increasingly taking on historical figures and characters who are able to symbolize the issues of their time. Better yet, characters inherited from stories that were violent, contradictory, or murderous (or even the recent eruption of the Tulsa massacre in contemporary pop culture, after decades of silence).
On the border between the different sub-genres of this movement, One Night in Miami … marks actress Regina King’s debut as a film director. It was a transition the artist had begun in recent years, featuring several episodes of the series, before the brilliant success of the miniseries Watchmen brought him back to the forefront of the media scene.
An opportunity for these four American cultural icons and black community preachers (sometimes apart from themselves) to compare their points of view and question one another’s aspirations. These academic processes, pre-digested political messages and staging often have an eu tend. One Night in Miami… doesn’t do so much to rock American political cinema as it offers a polished incarnation, shaped to receive all the badges of good behavior and to dredge the bottom of the Oscars with the delicacy of an English trawler one day after New Year’s Eve.
But make no mistake, however programmatic the feature film may be, it is not without intelligence when it comes to getting its point across. Not inferior to cinema when it comes to the visual transcription of a theatrical gesture. In this case, the casting option is enlightening.
Regina King thus chose to interpret Malcolm X as actor Kingsley Ben-Adir, an excellent actor, but all in wisdom and murmurs of regret, contrary to traditional representations of leading figures. And for good reason, the scenario focuses squarely on his doubts, and with sometimes unexpected finesse on his relationships with politics, beliefs, commitments. On the other hand, while ritualistic sculptures and films deal with the status of Islam in America’s black emancipation, other characters can grow and take good measure.
This is the second part of the story which is by far the most successful. Oddly enough, King is far more alert and precise when faced with the challenge of energizing lengthy theatrical dialogue than when it comes to grafting new vignettes, which weigh heavily on the story’s first half.
The filmmakers then managed to film the evolution of speech, and the position of each, poses, without revolutionary invention, but with careful framing, the question of word representation. In good times, King captures both a major fracture run through activism and an American communitarianism, and makes extension work with undeniable skill.