The true history behind ‘One Night in Miami’

Meilan Solly in Smithsonian:

When 22-year-old Cassius Clay unexpectedly defeated Sonny Liston on February 25, 1964, football star Jim Brown, a close friend of the young athlete, expected to mark the occasion with a night of revelry. After all, in beating Liston, Clay was now the heavyweight boxing champion of the world, proving that his skills in the ring matched his reputation for bravado. As Brown, who narrated the match for an avid audience of radio listeners, later recalled to biographer Dave Zirin, he’d planned “a huge post-fight party” at a nearby luxury hotel. But Clay had another idea in mind. “No, Jim,” he reportedly said. “There’s this little black hotel. Let’s go over there. I want to talk to you.”

One Night in Miami, a new film from actress and director Regina King, dramatizes the hours that followed the boxer’s upset victory. Accompanied by Brown (Aldis Hodge), civil rights leader Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir) and singer-songwriter Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.), Clay (Eli Goree) headed to the Hampton House Motel, a popular establishment among black visitors to Jim Crow–era Miami. The specifics of the group’s post-fight conversation remain unknown, but the very next morning, Clay announced that he was a proud convert to the anti-integrationist Nation of Islam. Soon after, he adopted a new name: Muhammad Ali.

King’s directorial debut—based on Kemp Powers’ 2013 play of the same name—imagines the post-fight celebration as a meeting of four minds and their approach to civil rights activism. Each prominent in their respective fields, the men debate the most effective means of achieving equality for black Americans, as well as their own responsibilities as individuals of note. As Powers (who was also the writer-director of Pixar’s Soul) wrote in a 2013 essay, “This play is simply about one night, four friends and the many pivotal decisions that can happen in a single revelatory evening.”

More here. (Throughout February, at least one post will be dedicated to honoring Black History Month. The theme this year is: The Family)