Regina King Hopes 'One Night in Miami' Can Inspire "Real Transformative Change"

One Night in Miami
Venice Film Festival

'One Night in Miami'

Kemp Powers and the cast joined the Venice Film Festival via video link to discuss the hotly-anticipated civil rights drama.

The Venice Film Festival had its first all-video press conference Monday as the director, writer, and stars of One Night in Miami joined those on the Lido via video link to discuss the hotly-anticipated drama. 

Oscar-winning actress Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk) makes her feature directing debut with this Amazon Film adaptation of Kemp Power's stage play, inspired by a 1964 encounter between Muhammed Ali (then Cassius Clay), Malcolm X, NFL star Jim Brown and soul singer Sam Cooke. These four giants sports, music and political activism spend the evening debating the Black struggle in what was a pivotal moment in the Civil Rights movement. Jess Wu Calder and Keith Calder of Snoot Entertainment produced One Night in Miami together with Jody Klein of ABKCO. King and Powers are executive producers. 

King was joined, virtually, by Powers, who adapted his own play for the screen, and actors Kingsley Ben-Adir (Malcolm X), Aldis Hodge (Jim Brown), Leslie Odom Jr. (Sam Cooke), and Eli Goree (Cassius Clay). Aside from a few small Zoom-specific snafus —including the squeals of an off-camera child —Venice's first all-video presser went smoothly, with the talent behind One Night in Miami eager to address the film's importance to the present political moment.

King said she hoped her film could be "a piece of art that moves the needle towards real transformative change," noting that the sort of conversations depicted between the four iconic figures in her film is "the conversations that are happening right now."

King said the uprisings inspired by the Black Lives Movement in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd, convinced both her and the producers of One Night In Miami to bring up the release of the film.

"We didn't know we'd be bringing the film out in this powder keg moment...But everyone involved thought this has to happen now. This has to come out now."

Power spoke to the differing visions of the film's historic characters for achieving racial equality—from Sam Cooke's liberation through economic independence —"the only color that matters out there is that green," he says of America —to Malcolm X's call for revolution. "We are fighting for our lives," he says, in a line certain to resonate with many African Americans today. "Our people are literally dying in the streets every day."

"These men want pretty much the same thing but they have different ways of going about it," said Power. "There are times when you have to work within the system, and sometimes you have to tear it down...It's a conflict that goes on inside me every day, and I sincerely believe it is a conflict that is going on inside of us, every Black artist."

Kingsley Ben-Adir, who will follow up his turn as Malcolm X playing Barack Obama in the Showtime miniseries The Comey Rule, said he felt One Night in Miami showed a side to his historic figures "that the public rarely sees." Ben-Adir noted that in all the video footage of Malcolm X, "he is always in the limelight...constantly responding to the most incredibly atrocious racism." Power's script, he said, brings out the vulnerability of these men, that, as Eli Goree noted, can from a distance "look like Black superheroes."

Goree said his performance as Cassius Clay was the first that made his own mother cry. "And she's seen me act since I was a child," he noted. "But Cassius Clay was the first person she saw when she was younger, growing up in the 60s, the first Black person who said he was beautiful. Which made other Black people think: 'if he's beautiful, I must be alright.' It changed her paradigm." King's film, he said, also represents four Black men "in a way that's different than what we see normally."

Representation was important to King in One Day in Miami, and not just of the four men on screen. The director noted that, as a Black female filmmaker, she was well aware of her role as a pioneer. In fact, One Day in Miami is the first film from a Black women director to ever screen at the Venice Film Festival.

"It will be very interesting to see how this film performs because how [the audience] receives it will either open doors or close doors for other Black, female directors," she said. "The way it is, one woman will get a shot, and if she doesn't succeed, it shuts things down for years to come...I really really want it to perform well. There is so much talent out there, so many talented directors. If One Night in Miami gets it done here, you'll get to see a lot more of us."