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One Night in Miami

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An inspired ensemble cast playing famous Black figures in a fictional meeting. Not to be missed. Out Friday Jan 15 on Prime.

One Night in Miami

This cinephile with an equal measure of theater love, and usually expansive about any subject, was speechless watching One Night in Miami. Not only is it a perfect blend of history, fiction, and casting, it is also a flat-out success explaining the Black struggle in sixties America. Rarely have the issues of racism and leadership been so clearly enunciated.

Kemp Powers directs and writes from his own play to depict four of the last century’s icons meeting in a hotel on the night Cassius Clay became World Heavyweight champ: Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Cassius Clay (Eli Goree), Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.)

The casting is a model of ensemble engineering: Malcolm leads the other three in discussion with his usual cool and rationality. Cassius is playful and sincere; Brown is cocky and strong; and Cooke is a vulnerable singer of songs that Malcolm deems socially unresponsive. Each argues his own case and the Black case with the ease of a trial lawyer.

The dialogue is crisp and spare, witty and insightful. Malcolm’s job is to focus the three on the demand that fame and fortune be used for the promotion of Islam and responsible citizenship. Most appropriate to that cause is Cooke, who Malcolm sees as in need of taking his sappy songs in the Dylan direction.

Malcolm is persuasive but so is each one of the icons about the cultural investments they have already made. The words are powerful and entertaining, easy to see how they would thrive in a theater as well as they do on the screen (put on the closed caption function if you want not to miss a word but not really necessary here).

I was pleased when I went to a play that featured Einstein meeting Picasso (Picasso at the Lapin Agile). I doubled my pleasure in One Night in Miami. I love writing and acting that makes real the figures I have known through pop culture but never met until now.

I give my personal guarantee that you will thank me for this tip. On Prime  Jan 15.

One Night in Miami

Director: Regina King (directorial debut0

Screenplay: Kemp Powers (Soul) from his play

Cast: Kingsley Ben-Adir (The OA), Eli Goree (Race)

Run Time: 1h 54m

Rating: R

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at JohnDeSando62@gmail.com

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, is host of WCBE's programs It's Movie Time and Cinema Classics, and the podcasts Back Talk and Double Take. Contact him at johndesando52@gmail.com.