IMAGINE a time more than 50 years ago when four of the biggest Black American celebrities in the world met up and spent hours discussing race, religion and politics?
That’s the premise of the film “One Night in Miami,” out on Amazon Prime on Friday, which recounts a 1964 meeting between boxer Cassius Clay, soul singer Sam Cooke, civil rights activist Malcolm X and football player Jim Brown.
The meeting really took place, says screenwriter Kemp Powers, who came across a throwaway mention of it years ago and became obsessed with finding out more.
“The characterizations and the conversations are fictional, but the situation is true,” Powers said. “Everything about this fiction is powered by fact.”
The four men met after Clay, then 22 years old, unexpectedly defeated heavyweight rival Sonny Liston in February 1964 in a fight in Miami Beach, Florida. Their imagined conversation ranges from the struggle of being Black in the United States in the 1960s to personal responsibility and career challenges.
Clay, who later would change his name to Muhammad Ali, “did go back to Malcolm’s room with Sam and Jim. They spent the night in conversation. And the next morning is when he announced to the press that he was in the Nation of Islam,” said Powers.
The movie, which is expected to be a strong awards contender this year, marks the feature film directorial debut of actor Regina King, an Oscar winner for “If Beale Street Could Talk.”
King said she had not previously seen “four Black men realized this way on screen … the way that I see them in my life. And that was just so exciting to me,” she said.
“I felt like while I couldn’t play one of these roles for obvious reasons, I sure would love to be captain of the ship,” King added.
Clay is played by Canadian Eli Goree, who trained extensively to capture the boxer’s signature dance like movements. “Hamilton” star Leslie Odom Jr. takes on the silky voiced hit maker Cooke. Aldis Hodge plays dynamic running back Jim Brown and Kinsgley Ben-Adir portrays firebrand political activist Malcom X.
Powers says the conversation between the four men cover issues on race that are just as pertinent today as they were in the 1960s.
“It’s unfortunate that it reflects today but it was not written with that intention. It is just coincidental,” he said.