Four men in a fight
On February 25, 1964, in a ring at Convention Hall in Miami Beach, Cassius Clay beats Sonny Liston and becomes world boxing champion in the super heavyweights at the age of 22. A few hours later, at a motel in the same city, the young monarch meets three other prominent African-Americans: Malcom X, Sam Cooke and Jim Brown. That fictional reunion is the substrate of the film A Night in Miami, based on Kemp Powers’s eponymous play, who is also the screenwriter of the film directed by Regina King.
Most of the film is set in the motel room where Malcom X was staying. Clay, Cooke and Brown, quoted by the Muslim activist, headed there. The conveners thought it would be a festive meeting, but it led to heated discussions about racial discrimination.
The debate comes to its greatest strain over disagreements between Sam Cooke and Malcom X: while the former considered economic empowerment to be critical for blacks to access the rest of their civil rights, and that he – as a singer, songwriter and producer – was pushing hard into that terrain, Malcom thought differently: he believed Cooke should use his songs to carry an explicit social message to his people. It is the old – and surpassed – discussion about the artist’s political commitment and the ideological burden expressed in the work of art.
The meeting of that quartet in Miami takes place at different junctures in each other’s lives. While Cassius Clay has just climbed to the top of boxing, Sam Cooke – in music – and Jim Brown – in American football – are on the cusp of their careers. However, Malcolm X was about to break up with The Nation of Islam, out of serious inconvenience with its leader.
The film shows the anguish Malcolm is going through, barely contained in front of his wife, but bursting into tears with Jim Brown, the character who brings the mesura amid the confrontations at the motel. Exposing the human side of Malcolm X – especially as a loving father and husband – is one of the film’s vitudes, because it breaks stereotypes, as it does with Cassius Clay, a funny, loquacious, outgoing, tongue-in-law young man in the press and in the ring, but demanding in training, studying his sport and aware of his social responsibility.
If the greatest verbal foreceges that night occurred between Malcom X and Sam Cooke, cassius Clay also had his disentroy to Malcolm, for Malcolm would leave The Nation of Islam when the boxer was about to enter it under his influence. What Clay also didn’t know is that Malcom was thinking of his support for forming a new Muslim group in the United States. In the final shots of the film we see the boxing champion during the entry ceremony to The Nation of Islam. From now on his name will be Muhammad Ali.
Paradoxically, Sam Cooke, the artist, was murdered two months earlier than Malcom X, the toughest and most militant actist. The first African-American singer to found his own record company was completed in California on February 11, 1964, while Malcom’s crime, considered one of the most influential African-Americans in his country’s history, occurred in New York on February 21, 1965.
The criminal plot of both events still creates mysteries. This is attested by two recent scientific productions: the documentary The Two Murders of Sam Cooke (Netflix, 2019) and the first season of the who killed Malcolm X series (Netflix, 2020).
In addition to A Night in Miami, racism and the struggles of African Americans are present in two other notable films this season: Judas and the Black Messiah and Da 5 Bloods.