I want to start this post by saying that Regina King is one of those women who I aspire to be. King has been doing a lot of directing in the past few years and it has been a joy to watch one of her masterpieces. I admire the fact that she got to direct a cast of fine chocolate men acting their butts off! I just needed to get that out.
I also want to make note of a couple things and then we’ll dive into the argument or arguments. I recently read an article, before I watched this movie, that made mention of King not wanting big names in the movie. I agree with this movie and commend the casting director for adhering to that request. However, two of these actors we should know because one was in Hamilton. I repeat Leslie Odom Jr., who played Aaron Burr, was in Hamilton, a production that captivated the nation for at least two years. Aldis Hodge was in one of my favorite shows, Underground, as well as Straight Outta Compton, What Men Want and Hidden Figures. However, amongst the four men, Sam Cooke and Jim Brown are the two least identifiable if you were to ask someone who each man was in this film.
One Night in Miami is a fictional account of a night where Sam Cooke, Jim Brown, Cassius Clay, because he has not converted to this point, and Malcolm X all come together after a 1964 title win from Clay. This movie is based off a play of the same name. Personally, even though I have not seen the play, I think I still would have liked the movie more so than the play. There are subtleties that you can only get in a movie that make the arguments that much more intense. So let’s talk about the main argument between Sam and Malcolm.
I agree with Malcolm but I think his delivery was wrong. He was right. Jim, Sam and Cassius have an immense following of all types of people, not just black people. If they take a stand, their voices will be way louder than Malcolms. I see it like this. Malcolm has the ear of people who love him, want to be like him and those that hate him. If you think about it, that’s a very narrow scope of people to get your message to. Sam has the ear of black people, white people, high society, the poor, etc and Sam is unique in what he does because he can make people feel with his voice. Yes, the other three can do the same thing but it doesn’t have the same intensity. Music and the way someone sings a song can make you laugh, cry, scream and they stay with you forever. The song “Change Gon’ Come” gives me chills when I hear it. You can just hear the pain, longing and exhaustion in his voice. Malcolm, Cassius and Jim just don’t have that same power. Later in the film, we hear Malcolm recount the story of Sam improvising in Boston after Jackie Wilson sabotages his performance. Now, if Malcolm had told this story beforehand instead of pointing the finger at Sam for not doing anything, he could have avoided that argument.
The other side of that argument is just as important though. Sam was a one-of-a-kind person and artist. We’ve heard in recent years how important it is for artists to own their masters. Does anyone remember the Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney fallout story? Michael understood the power of owning music and made sure he owned his and The Beatles catalog, too. Wasn’t personal, it was business and being a black man in the industry doing what Michael was doing, he didn’t really have room for niceties. But back to Sam. What Sam was doing with his artists at the time was almost unheard of. Think of all the artists before Sam who didn’t know what he knew or did and didn’t tell anyone. Sam has the wherewith-all to share his wisdom with his people. If anybody has watched Unsung on TV One, then you’ve heard how Bobby Womack talked about Sam Cooke. Sam was his best friend, his brother and he owed Sam his life, in a basic sense. That was what Sam was giving to his community and I’m not sure Malcolm understood that there was power in doing that.
Let’s move to why Malcolm was so passionate about them speaking out anyway. Whether on screen or in real life, I believer certain people who have died early knew they would not be here long. Malcolm X, Tupac, Martin Luther King Jr., Jesus, etc. All people who felt that their work and time here on Earth was limited and they needed to find a way to make sure that they work they started was completed. This is why Malcolm was so hard on Sam and Jim and wanted Cassius to come with him on his new endeavor. As a side note, I can’t imagine being someone who constantly has to work with a target on my back, not knowing who to trust but having to keep going.
I find it unique that all four men were at a crossroads in their careers and lives. Jim wanting to expand himself beyond football, Cassius wanting to finally take the next step in his spiritual journey, Sam wanting to do more with his music and Malcolm leaving the Nation. I think, in this moment, they all needed the support of each other to keep them moving forward. As far as Cassius and Malcolm, again, I feel his delivery was wrong. He supported Cassius and his journey all the way until he made the decision to convert. Malcolm didn’t make him come to that conclusion. He merely gave him consult like Cassius has asked but knowing what Malcolm knew about the Nation and what their leader was doing at the time, I think he wanted to make sure Cassius was somewhere that honored and upheld the true values of the Nation that he had taught him and he believed his new Nation would do that. What he told Cass and what Sam and Jim heard was that Malcolm was using Cassius conversion as a marketing ploy for his own new Nation. I’m glad Cassius was still able to calm himself enough to know that Malcolm meant well and was still his friend.
If you read a lot of these posts, I love watching things that make me think and this did just that. It got my gears turning. What do you think? Do you think Malcolm was right or wrong? Do you think Sam was right or wrong? What about what Jim said to Malcolm about proving himself to Black people based in the fact that he was a light-skinned man? Give me your thoughts! Is Cassius the greatest? The prettiest?