With a stage motel in Miami as a backdrop, One Night in Miami pays homage to four black icons


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On February 22, 1964, 22-year-old Cassius Clay (who would soon become Muhammad Ali) defeated Sonny Liston in a long-awaited boxing match in Miami Beach. At the time, hotels in the city were banned for protectors of blacks, so men headed for it Hampton House Motels and Villas in the Brownsville neighborhood of Miami across the bay, where they gathered in a room to celebrate Clay’s new heavyweight world champion status.

No one knows what was discussed in that room, but One night in Miami he invents what could have happened that night. Oscar-winning actress Regina King (Guards,, If Beale Street could talk) has an impressive feature-length directorial debut with this 2013 adaptation of the eponymous drama Kemp Powers.

The film focuses on four men, who face intense struggles at the peak of their careers. King represents each of these figures larger than life through humiliating stories that represent moments of failure or insecurity. In the opening scene, Clay (Eli Goree) shows the boats in a London brawl and his opponent knocks him down unexpectedly. Singer Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) failed in his performance for an unwelcome white audience in Copacabana, the place of his dream. Celebrated NFL star Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) reveals that his achievements do not spare him everyday Southern racism. The increasingly isolated Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir) plans his exit from the nation of Islam as the sticks denigrate him on national television.

Every man is terrified and insecure wheels on the abyss of great life changes.

Ben-Adir’s portrayal of Malcolm X could be the film’s most interesting performance. Several actors reportedly gave up the role because they did not want to follow Denzel Washington’s performance in Spike Lee’s 1992 biopic. Malcolm X. King initially turned to Ben-Adir for the role of Cassius Clay, but the complexity of Malcolm’s character attracted Ben-Adir to a deeper level. So much of Malcolm’s public figure has been his trademark of tough facade, but Ben-Adir’s interpretation explores the sensitive side.

Famous lunch scene from One Night in Miami

Cult scene for lunch from One night in Miami

Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios

“Malcolm as a husband and father was so much in my conversation with Regina before she rejected me,” Ben-Adir says. “She wanted to make sure that the actor playing Malcolm understood that this film really required a different heartbeat. We wanted to try to take advantage of that Malcolm humanity in danger and how it might feel for him. “

Ben-Adir’s Malcolm is confronted and abandoned. By separating from the Nation of Islam, Malcolm struggles to protect himself and his family. He hopes Clay will publicly announce his conversion to Islam and join him when he starts his own Muslim organization.

“The process of working with Regina [King] and working on Malcolm in this film was the most intense, complete acting experience I have ever had, ”admits Ben-Adir. “Regina allowed us to concentrate on the humanity of these people and what at the time could have been their fears, hopes and dreams.”

With most of the film set in a modest hotel room, King rehearses his lens about the intricacies of black fraternal ties. Locked in a room, men have to deal with each other and with their self-doubts. The biggest conflict is between Malcolm and Cooke, who don’t really have much in common. Yet both men are grappling with their seats in the black equality movement, and within a year of this meeting both have been tragically killed. As in the play, the Hampton House in Miami serves as a limited space for men. Each of them arises forever changed.

Although King shot her film in New Orleans, the setting is Hampton House really Miami Landmark. During its heyday, the motel was a major destination for the talents of blacks who visited the city. It served as the basis for lamps like Martin Luther King Jr., Sammy Davis Jr., Nat King Cole, Marvin Gaye, and Althea Gibson. From the 1950s to the 1970s, Hampton House thrived as a hangout for community members and celebrities outside of working hours. Musicians often held impromptu late-night jam sessions in the motel lounge.

Cassius Clay at Hampton House after a 1964 heavyweight victory over Sonny Liston.

Cassius Clay at Hampton House after a 1964 heavyweight victory over Sonny Liston.

Photo courtesy of Historic Hampton House Cultural Center

Many iconic photographic moments, like King without a shirt in the pool, Malcolm and Clay surrounded by fans at the lunch bar after Clay’s championship win, and Ebony Cover photo of Muhammad Ali (formerly Clay) with his wife and new baby, taken at Hampton House. King was a regular guest, and his room on the first floor was equipped with an exit door. He took to the pool scene at the motel to rehearse his “I Have a Dream” speech for onlookers, before giving it to the world in March in Washington.

Desegregation dealt a huge blow to black oases like Hampton House. Black artists and visitors chose to stay in luxury places like Fontainebleau, and black residents who visited the motel for socializing left Brownsville for communities that represented upward mobility. The hotel closed in the 1970s.

During the 1980s and 1990s, the abandoned building attracted squatters and drug users. In the early 2000s, Hampton House was on the verge of demolition, but a basic landmark rescue campaign succeeded. After a multi-million dollar renovation and a fifteen-year battle, the Hampton House has reopened as Hampton House Historic Cultural Center 2015. The center serves as a museum where visitors can tour Ali’s and King’s rooms and access photos and accessories from the motel’s glory day.

Enid Pinkney, founding president and CEO of the Historic Hampton House Community Trust, is credited with the great credit for saving the motel. As a young woman, she spent many nights dancing in a jazz lounge and eating in a 24-hour restaurant.

“We would leave work, go home and get dressed to go to Hampton House,” Pinkney says New Times. “It was an exciting place and you could meet so many different people. It really was an important part of the community and all the celebrities made it even more exciting. “

Muhammad Ali's room at Hampton House.

Muhammad Ali’s room at Hampton House.

Photo by Aaron Gordon

Pinkney hopes One night in Miami will re-engage with Hampton House and encourage financial support for its operating costs and community engagement projects.

Marketing Director Edwin Sheppard, who left Fontainebleau to work for Hampton House, is too young to remember the belle époque motel. Still, he exudes an effusive fear of his history. He also sees the film as an exciting tool for wider conversations about preserving history and education.

Despite the unprecedented challenges of 2020 for the film industry, One night in Miami among others, he debuted at a major award ceremony at the Venice Film Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival.

“This film is a love letter to the experience of blacks in America,” King writes in a statement from his director. “It was an opportunity to portray these icons first as men, first as a brother.”

The fact that Hampton House from the age of segregation functions as a safe space and the interior space of the film is a fitting tribute to an institution in Miami.

One night in Miami. Starring Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge and Leslie Odom Jr., directed by Regina King. Written by Kemp Powers. 114 minutes Rated R. In theaters now and streaming on Amazon Prime on Friday, January 15th.

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