By Mr. Will Wong
Following-up on her Oscar-winning work in If Beale Street Could Talk, Regina King makes her Feature directorial debut at TIFF ‘ 20 with ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI, which though set in the past, still asks very timely questions facing the world today.
The Film is set one night in February 1964 uniting real-life friends and icons Cassius Clay (Eli Goree), Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.), and Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir) as they celebrate the former’s win in the boxing ring, crowning him Heavyweight Champion of the World. What ensues is hard-hitting dialogue which digs deep into some of the issues facing their community and where they stand in the big picture as important figures.
Based on Kemp Powers‘ Play of the same name, King is working with some tremendous talent with this Ensemble and with these great minds within the confines of a swanky hotel room, discussions get intense, heated and at once humorous. Clay is about to be renamed Muhammad Ali and is about the announce to the world that he has converting to Islam, but not without some hesitation. Brown after a successful career in Football, is about to accept a role in a Western film which would lead to a successful acting career with high-paying roles. Cooke navigates his world as a Pop Star, but is longing to sing about something more meaningful. Malcolm X as a prominent figure of the Civil Rights movement and Spokesman for the Nation of Islam, is about to get assassinated.
The Film poses some thought-provoking discussion within the Black community about how the world is perceived differently between those who are light-skinned versus dark-skinned; what it means for a Black Entertainer to be paid well when it comes at the cost of their dignity and their community; or what it means to be revered publicly, but not to be welcome into someone’s home because of the colour of one’s skin.
One poignant scene in particular has Ben-Adir‘s Malcolm X in a chilling plea to his brothers that still resonates to this day amidst the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. He states that there is no more room for standing on the fence anymore with black people dying on the streets every day. “Either you stand on this side with us or that side against us”, he says. Another moment in the Film talks to White Privilege and how a black person is expected to feel indebted to a white person who wasn’t horrible to them. This falls in-line with the current thought that it isn’t enough to be “nice” and that what is required is that we be actively be Anti-Racist.
King succeeds largely in this superb first Feature, giving us a tightly-written and directed Film which while set almost 60 years ago today, has some uncannily-relevant messaging that needs to be revisited today.
ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI screens TIFF ’20 as follows:
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