Rated R for language, especially in context of race. Because this was a play, a lot of the script is entirely surrounding dialogue. But if I had to think back on the language, there's nothing that is really in the realm of vulgarity. There is some disrespect of other cultures, with a focus on religion. But overall, the movie is fairly tame for an R-rating.
DIRECTOR: Regina King
Normally, when I'm off of work, I tend to give the blog a little bit of a vacation. It's so funny that I have a harder time writing these things away from the constraints of works, but it really does become a greater challenge. It's not like four kids creates a huge amount of chaos (this last sentence isn't true in the least), but the idea of not working on a set schedule makes it really hard. Also, there are a ton of small interruptions, so if this thing comes out all staccato, please bear with me.
Yeah, I want to see this on stage. It's this weird thing that happens when I watch an adaptation of a play, I'm so curious to see how the stage version of the play actually works out. But this one makes a lot of sense. Yeah, King takes advantage of the format and moves her characters out of a single setting. But I really do think that this is one of those bottle stories. The entire thing could take place inside the one hotel room, right? But I can see that not exactly working in the context of a film, especially one that has some Oscar buzz around it. Yet, part of me is far more curious to see how this story plays out when these characters are locked in a single surround. I also have to consider that I'm placing an unfair request on Regina King. The quartet, at one point, needs to go on the roof because they believe that they are being bugged by the FBI. Maybe the stage design reflects a more spartan, black-box design. Regardless, I don't know why I started off with this as the most important thing. I told you that this blog would fall apart.
It's so interesting to see these four people together as one single story. Again, this is loosey-goosey based on a real event. Really, as far as I understand it, this is based on a famous photo of a photo. The photo is of Malcolm X taking a photo of Muhammed Ali (then known as Cassius Clay), Jim Brown, and Sam Cooke. Like many of us, I'm sure the playwright wondered what these giants of the time could have been discussing. The entire play is centered around this idea. But there has to be a lot of fiction behind this historical fiction. After reading about Jim Brown's history post-this moment, I mean we have to consider that he might not have been on the up-and-up as this movie portrayed. But Brown's characterization in this story might be the most outsider. People have low expectations of Brown compared to every other person in that hotel room.
It's just odd that Malcolm X was portrayed the way he was. Since the Black Lives Matter protests of last summer, I've been fascinated with Malcolm X. I watched Spike Lee's biopic based on his autobiography, the film entitled Malcolm X. From a white suburban perspective, I was always --probably passively --raised to distrust Malcolm X. He was always Magneto in my narrative. King was always the hero; X was always the villain. While I'm still a staunch pacifist and probably disagree with some of Malcolm X's teachings, I have definitely learned to respect him for so much of what he did. All this is a lead-in to discussing the characterization of Malcolm X.
Malcolm X, in On Night, is both the man of legend, but also remarkably human. As much as I loved Denzel's portrayal of this man, Kingsley Ben-Adir almost shows a different man. X is as much of a zealot as he is known for (in the most important way possible). Everything to him is the cause. He's never not being Malcolm X, the leader of a movement to take back power from the white man. But there's a certain tiredness that Ben-Adir imbues his Malcolm X with. Because good storytelling involves flawed characters that don't always have the right answers, Malcolm X is shown the flaws in his idealism. It is through the juxtaposition of Malcolm X to Sam Cooke.
Cooke is an interesting character. It's Leslie Odom, Jr. who is up for the Academy Award. Don't get me wrong. He does a very impressive job, but it is so interesting that it isn't Ben-Adir or Eli Goree for their portrayals that flummoxes me. Anyway, I gotta stop getting distracted. It's Sam Cooke, who wants to figure out what it means to be a successful Black man in America during this time period. The same themes would end up being in The United States v. Billie Holliday, which I'll get around to very soon. Cooke hates to think that he is less of Black man because he hasn't suffered. And Cooke comes across as extremely sympathetic. He doesn't deserve to have his humanity and his identity stripped from him because he isn't militant. But we also get Malcolm X's perspective: Sam Cooke should be using his exposure for the greater good.
And these two are fighting for the soul of Cassius Clay. We know from our perspective that Cassius Clay would become Muhammed Ali. That's a given. But his personality doesn't align necessarily with the Nation of Islam. Clay was infamously known for being a braggart. (Side note: I just checked Facebook while Weebly was down and saw that a very conservative boomer tried manipulating Malcolm X's words against progressives. Gross.) So how did Cassius Clay go from being this very carefree character to being this vocal pacifist who is tied into the Nation of Islam? And I kind of love that it comes from this dichotomy between Malcolm X and Sam Cooke? Both of them have very different philosophies and there's this fictionalized version of Joe Brown translating it all for Cassius Clay. It's interesting. I mean, it's mostly fictional, but it is interesting.
But is it an amazing movie? I don't know if I'll ever go that far. It's a great story and it would make an absolutely fascinating play on stage, but maybe film isn't the best place for this. It feels all a little rushed. There needs to be some silence and I think that the film is really rushing some of the beats that actors would probably take given an audience and locked in blocking. The film is by no means bad. It's just that I can really envision this being a far more powerful piece on the stage.
Yeah, it took me the whole day to write this. It's all over the place. I'm not sure what I covered and what I didn't cover. But I can leave with the knowledge that One Night in Miami... is more of an actors' wonderland than an amazing film. It is good, but it just has some room to figure stuff out.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.