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.