Awards Analysis: Regina King Could Ride 'One Night in Miami' Back to the Oscars

From left: Leslie Odom Jr., Eli Goree, Kingsley Ben-Adir and Aldis Hodge in 'One Night in Miami'
Courtesy of Amazon Studios

From left: Leslie Odom Jr., Eli Goree, Kingsley Ben-Adir and Aldis Hodge in 'One Night in Miami'

One Night in Miami, the feature directorial debut of the Oscar-winning actress Regina King, is one of the films that will be omnipresent on this unusual awards season's virtual fall film festival circuit.

The period piece drama, which imagines what took place when four black icons — Muslim minister Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), football great Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), crooner Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom, Jr.) and boxing great Cassius Clay (Eli Goree) — hung out together in Miami after the first Ali-Liston heavyweight championship fight on Feb. 25, 1964, had its world premiere on Monday at the Venice Film Festival (King became the first African-American female filmmaker ever to have a film there) and will next head to the Toronto International Film Festival on Friday, with some already buzzing about the possibility that it could hang in all the way to next April's 93rd Oscars.

While One Night in Miami — which Kemp Powers adapted from his own 2013 play, and which Amazon will release at a date still to be determined — has a lot of admirable attributes, I would urge awards-watchers caution before declaring this period piece drama a shoo-in.

As The Hollywood Reporter's David Rooney notes in his review, King's film is highly engaging, but also feels a bit like "high-quality filmed theater," setting up and checking off a litany of issues pertaining to the Civil Rights struggle. Still, each of its quartet of actors, who are made-up to look eerily like the real men they are portraying, convincingly give voice to these passionate exchanges (echoes of which can be heard in the era of Black Lives Matter), and couldn't be better.

Because the performers also have roughly equal screen time, I think it is likely that all four will be promoted as supporting actors, as was the case with Spotlight, Moonlight and any number of other recent true ensemble pictures — and, if those are any model, the best it can hope for is a nom for one. Goree is a lot of fun as boastful Ali and Hodge is pitch-perfect as soulful Brown, but the best bet is either Ben-Adir or Odom, Jr., who get showy moments when their characters clash. (I think a best ensemble SAG Award nomination is a very real and appropriate possibility.)

Odom, of course a Tony winner for Hamilton, also co-wrote and performs the original song that plays over the film's end-credits, "Speak Now," which is a nice capper to Terence Blanchard's jazzy score and could be a contender.

As for whether or not the film can crack the picture and/or director categories (King theoretically could become only the sixth female and first Black female nominee for best director), I think it's simply too early to tell. Contrary to other assertions I have read, it is not a slam-dunk to do so and a lot will depend on what else emerges over the seven — count 'em, seven — remaining months of this season. Also, remember that the recently-announced re-expansion of the best picture Oscar category to 10 guaranteed slots will not take effect until next season, meaning we could wind up with as few as five slots when nominations are announced in February.

Additionally, if One Night in Miami does gain traction, it will undoubtedly be picked apart like other recent contenders which center on completely imagined conversations involving historic figures, some of which the Academy fully embraced (e.g. The King's Speech and Green Book), others which it partially embraced (e.g. The Two Popes) and still others which it shunned altogether (e.g. The Butler).