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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that One Night in Miami is actor Regina King's directorial debut. Based on Kemp Powers' play and set in 1964, it imagines a far-ranging conversation between controversial activist and notable Nation of Islam leader Malcolm X (Kinglsey Ben-Adir), boxer Cassius Clay (Eli Gooree), NFL star-turned action hero Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), and singer Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.). Their night together evolves into a test of their friendship as they critique each other over their approaches to the civil rights movement and helping Black people push forward. Expect a bit of sexual humor/language, some drinking and cigarette smoking, swearing ("f--k," "s--t," and more), and a few racist slurs, including the "N" word. There are also allusions to Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad's sexual relationships with teenage girls. As a whole, however, the film promotes empathy and compassion and humanizes these larger-than-life figures, showing them as men who are trying to do the best they can to help their community with the skills and talents they were given.
What's the story?
In ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI, we meet iconic Americans Malcolm X (Kinglsey Ben-Adir), Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali (Eli Goree), Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), and Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.). The four men, all friends, gather to celebrate Clay's latest achievement in the boxing ring. It turns out that their (imagined) night together comes at a critical time in each man's life. Clay is about to announce his transition to Islam -- and his new name, Muhammad Ali -- with the help of Malcolm X, who fears that his life is nearing its end and wants to make sure his friends are helping Black Americans advance in society. Brown, an NFL player, is preparing to transition from football to Hollywood, and Cooke is making his way up in White musical spaces without fully acknowledging the plight of Black America. The night takes a turn from celebratory to the realm of deep discussion when each man, particularly Malcolm X and Cooke, challenges the others on their approach to helping Black people through their celebrity status. Their arguments become revelatory as each man reveals his worries, shortcomings, and hopes for the future.
Is it any good?
This drama marks Regina King's first time in the director's chair, but you wouldn't know it from how deftly she handles both the film's material and the filmmaking process itself. One Night in Miami is more than just a film set in the civil rights era of the 1960s: It's a film that accomplishes the task of humanizing four controversial, larger-than-life figures who are often either demonized (as in the cases of Malcolm X and Clay/Ali) or deified (in the case of Sam Cooke, who tragically died at Los Angeles' Hacienda Hotel under mysterious circumstances just as his career was reaching its next level). For instance, Malcolm X is shown not as the big bad villain that much of mainstream America has often made him out to be, but as a serious, stoic man who's a doting father and husband and is trying to use his platform to elevate Black people into freedom. Ali is shown to be a young man who's figuring out his way into adulthood and Black leadership while also being a bombastic force for sports journalists to cover. The dualities on display here remind viewers that these men were people first before they became legends. The film will also give viewers a deeper look at male friendship, particularly where Black men are concerned. The four men care deeply about one another, to the point of arguing about motives and decisions; that type of fierce love between Black men is rarely shown in film. Ben-Adir, Hodge, Goree, and Odom find the humanity in their characters and reintroduce us to these men through their friendship, giving audiences beautifully textured layers of character development to witness.
This approach also allows viewers to engage in discussions about the Nation of Islam and the complex role it plays in Black American life. It helps if you come to the film with a base knowledge about the group and how it managed to attract big names like Ali. The Nation of Islam is designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group because of its rhetoric about White Americans in general and Jewish people in particular. The Nation of Islam also focuses primarily on Black supremacy, as well as hateful rhetoric towards other marginalized groups, like LGBTQ+ individuals. The group was able to embed itself in Black American society by focusing on the very real ills that face Black Americans: institutionalized racism, discrimination, economic inequality, redlining, and more. Through the promise of relieving racial oppression, the group was able to attract many converts, including Ali. Further complicating the narrative is that the group was seen by some Black people as a public service, via its community outreach to the underserved. Malcolm X is shown here wrestling with his growing disillusionment regarding the group, including then-leader Elijah Muhammad's relationships with underage girls and political corruption. Malcolm X's trip to Mecca in 1964 cemented his decision to leave the Nation of Islam and pursue a relationship with God based on the actual tenets of Islam. That decision, unfortunately, led to his assassination in 1965. One Night in Miami will give viewers plenty to discuss when it comes to analyzing how Black oppression allowed the Nation of Islam to gain power and how America as a whole can help Black America become alleviated from the real issues facing the community.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the fact that One Night in Miami imagines something that never actually happened. Is it OK to put real people in fictional circumstances? How could you find out more about all four featured men?
What are the attributes of a healthy friendship? How can you argue with friends while maintaining respect? How can friends work together to achieve a mutual goal? How are friendships typically portrayed in movies/on TV?
What talents or skills can you use to further a good cause?
- In theaters: December 25, 2020
- On DVD or streaming: January 15, 2021
- Cast: Aldis Hodge, Leslie Odom Jr., Eli Goree, Kingsley Ben-Adir
- Director: Regina King
- Studio: Amazon Studios
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Activism, History
- Character strengths: Compassion, Empathy
- Run time: 110 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: language throughout
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Selection
- Last updated: January 19, 2021
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