Clay is poised to change his name to Muhammad Ali and join the Nation of Islam, just as Malcolm is preparing to depart it. Brown is exploring a career in film. Cooke, fresh from a performance before a disinterested white audience at the Copacabana, seems uncertain of his place in music.
Being such a charismatic force, Ali usually takes up all the oxygen in movies. There isn’t a camera that isn’t drawn to him, nor should there be. But Clay and Brown aren’t quite front and center in “One Night in Miami.” Instead, the film gravitates toward the sparring between Malcolm and Cooke.
A sense of victory and celebration quickly fades, and not only because, in observing Malcolm’s religious dictates, they aren’t drinking. (Malcolm instead offers vanilla ice cream.) Each character is contemplating how they fit, or don’t, in a white-controlled world, and how their fame brings burden as much as it does opportunity. Are they risking enough? Or too much?
“We are fighting for our lives,” says Malcolm.
Some of the same dialogue, of course, resonates directly with today. And it goes without saying that films this intimate with the existential anxieties of Black identity aren’t common. “One Night in Miami,” the first film by a Black female director selected to play at the Venice Film Festival in its 77 years, comes through stirringly unfiltered.