February 25, 1964 was the night Cassius Clay (played by Halifax’s own Eli Goree) beat Sonny Liston and became the heavyweight champion of the world. It was also the night of a historic meeting between four prominent figures of the Civil Rights movement, dramatized here in Regina King’s directorial debut.
After the legendary match, for which NFL football player Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) lent his announcer’s voice, the boxing champ joins Brown, famed singer-songwriter Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) and Civil Rights leader Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir) for an evening at the storied Hampton House motel during which they discuss their roles in the movement. Unlike in many biopics that drag viewers through a whirlwind of events spanning decades, the film set on a single night avoids many cringe-worthy cliches of the genre.
Based on a 2013 play by Kemp Powers, One Night in Miami benefits from its stage origins with dialogue-driven scenes in which tension mounts to confrontation before settling down with plenty of food for thought left over. By morning, though Clay has announced his conversion to Islam and that he’s becoming Muhammad Ali, he’s not the only one who leaves the motel changed.