Regina King’s directorial debut One Night In Miami has finally released worldwide on Prime Video, gaining positive acclaim from all over. Emotionally-moving and intellectually-rich, the movie adapts Kemp Powers’ play of the same name that reimagines a meeting that involved prominent icons like Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, and Jim Brown. Each character comes from a different line of work and carries a different socio-political ideology.
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Once the setup is established, their arguments and agreements form the remainder of the story leading to a back-and-forth series of debates on the politics of race. Be it the dialogue-driven screenplay by Powers, the well-acted ensemble, or the heart-touching songs by Leslie Odom Jr. (who also plays Sam Cooke), One Night In Miami is a power-packed drama for all.
10 Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020)
In the context of the ongoing awards season, the movie that comes closest to One Night In Miami might be George C Wolfe’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. The latter too is an adaptation of a play inspired by real-life figures, that documents the course of events over one hot afternoon in a studio recording session.
Its limited setting benefits greatly from a powerful screenplay as the titular Ma Rainey’s (Viola Davis) session musicians discuss and debate music and society in Chicago of the 1920s. The movie further serves as a fitting tribute to the late Chadwick Boseman who plays a trumpeter named Levee. Boseman’s teary-eyed monologues are bound to give One Night in Miami fans goosebumps.
9 Malcolm X (1992)
Anyone who wishes to gather a deeper understanding of Malcolm X’s life and philosophies must read his autobiography (co-authored with Alex Haley). In the cinematic medium, the groundbreaking literary work inspired Spike Lee’s epic biopic drama Malcolm X, featuring Denzel Washington as the titular character.
Clocking at over 200 minutes, the movie takes its time in giving audiences a glimpse of varying aspects of the human rights activist’s life. Covering his turbulent childhood, rousing speeches, understanding of Islam, Malcolm X overcomes familiar biopic tropes to tell a politically-charged narrative bolstered by one of Washington’s strongest performances.
8 Ali (2001)
It’s a Herculean task to emulate the larger-than-life persona of Muhammad Ali but Will Smith gives it all for a stirring performance that attempts to capture the different phases of the legendary boxer’s life. The story takes off from Ali’s duel with Sonny Liston for the heavyweight title and then proceeds towards his conversion to Islam and rejection of the Vietnam War draft.
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Tackling both Ali’s boxing career and his political views, Michael Mann’s movie might not be the most in-depth glimpse at the champ’s life but is still worth a watch.
7 When We Were Kings (1996)
Perhaps a more nuanced outlook on Ali’s personality would be the Oscar-winning sports documentary When We Were Kings, even if it’s centered around one particular chapter in his life. The movie takes place at a time when Muhammad Ali was being viewed as a former champion, especially in the face of the younger, then-undefeated George Foreman. Promoter Don King then pulled the strings to orchestrate the highly-publicized match known as ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ that helped propel Ali to an underdog win, regaining his heavyweight title.
Featuring personal interviews and archival footage from the event, the documentary also attempts to understand the personal motivations behind Ali’s win (as his championship title was taken on from him early on for his rejection of the draft).
6 The Trial Of The Chicago 7 (2020)
The Trial of the Chicago 7 is another movie that pits varying ideological positions against each other, leaving enough room for interpretation for the audiences. The movie deals with the ‘political’ trial of protestors who rallied at Chicago against the government of that time and its handling of the Vietnam War.
Even when the titular band of anti-state rebels are proponents of the same ideology, they don’t seem to be on the same page always. Just take, for instance, the scenes between Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne) as they argue about the end-goals of their protest. The ensemble and Sorkin’s ever-reliable sharp-witted dialogue help in offering varying perspectives, while delivering on heavy emotions.
5 Mo’ Better Blues (1990)
A prominent conversation in One Night In Miami finds Malcolm X questioning Sam Cooke’s simplistic lyrics while Cooke offers a counter-argument on how he makes good business decisions in an otherwise white-dominated music scene. Spike Lee’s musical comedy Mo’ Better Blues is an interesting look at the economics of cause-and-effect that go behind a musical partnership.
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Denzel Washington stars as a trumpeter, the movie following his rivalry with his musical peers, and a series of bad decisions that affect his career and personal life. The jazz-heavy soundtrack is the cherry on the top, featuring frequent collaborator Terence Blanchard.
4 Frost/Nixon (2008)
For those who like elongated conversations in a cinematic play-like medium, Frost/Nixon is a worthy pick to watch. Based on Peter Morgan’s play of the same name, the movie dramatizes the interviews between British journalist David Frost and infamous American President Richard Nixon.
Michael Sheen and Frank Langella reprise their roles from the play’s West End and Broadway productions, delivering power-packed performances with an air of tension and suspense. Rather than just focusing on the interviews, the movie also re-enacts the events that led to the meeting in the first place, instantly picking up after the Watergate scandal.
3 Tick, Tick, Tick (1970)
Jim Brown has been one of the most decorated professional icons but as Regina King’s movie shows, he retired early for an acting career. While Brown has had supporting roles in popular movies like The Dirty Dozen, he has proven his mettle as a leading man too with Tick, Tick, Tick probably being a cult favorite in this regard.
Brown stars as Jim Price, the new sheriff of a highly racist rural county in the South. While Price tried to administer justice by arresting a white man on manslaughter charges, tensions arise as the town turns against him. The movie’s adrenaline-fueled narrative and its bold portrayal of racial tensions made it quite ahead of its times.
2 ReMastered: The Two Killings Of Sam Cooke (2019)
Sam Cooke had a glorious singing career from a young age only to be cut short by his death at 33. Murdered by the manager of an LA motel, the court ruled the death as a justifiable homicide. However, the circumstances that led to this unprecedented event continues to be questioned by Cooke’s family and loved ones.
A part of Netflix’s music documentaries series ReMastered, the movie explores personal and journalistic views on the controversy surrounding Cooke’s death, featuring interviews with Jim Brown, Quincy Jones, and others.
1 Hamilton (2020)
With his vibrant energy and singing prowess, Leslie Odom Jr. was definitely one of the stand-out performances in One Night In Miami. New fans of the actor/singer can head back to experience his on-stage brilliance in Hamilton (the live-stage recording of which was released as a Disney+ movie last year).
Casting non-white actors as the Founding Fathers of America and revolutionizing the musical genre with heavy hip-hop and R&B influences, Hamilton is best summed up as creator Lin-Manuel Miranda says, ‘America then, as told by America now’. Leslie Odom Jr. plays the role of Aaron Burr, the third vice president of the United States.
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Hailing from and based in India, Shaurya Thapa harbors interests in freelance journalism, cultural diversity, and critical analyses on films and TV of varied genres.
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