I was uncharacteristically excited to see Regina King’s One Night in Miami. This excitement was motivated by an opportunity to support both a black director and black screenwriter. My overall resistance to plays as films remains as does the America’s employment of seemingly black ambiances to propagate anti-black ideals.
I have abridged my thoughts into four points.
I. Assassinating the African in America: We Can’t Play Ourselves
One Night in Miami director Regina King recently made headlines for saying that she “doesn’t care where a person is from.” These comments followed the criticism King received for not casting an African in America as black icons Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X.
The film cast Kingsley Ben-Adir, a black British actor, to play Malcolm X, and Eli Goree, a Black-Canadian actor, to play Muhammad Ali. These casting choices perform in a toxic pattern intrinsic to black storytelling in an anti-black climate, and is anything but innocuous.
Ali and X are pivotal presentations of blackness obscured in an anti-black world adamant about castrating the black man, and aborting the African in America’s legacy as a result. To archive blackness in such a manner, underscores what Ta-Nehisi Coates says in his article “Nina Simone’s Face.” In chorus with Coates, the film elucidates that X and Ali could not play themselves, delineating yet another attempt to assassinate the African in America.
II. Mis-representing the Under-Represented
There is also an issue with how the screenplay develops the characters. Now, I understand that the film was not supposed to be biographical, however, to distort certain details about figures integral to the black archive is unforgivable.
There is a part in the film where Malcolm X admonishes Cooke. During the exchange, X highlights Bob Dylan’s “Blowing in the Wind.” As a black nationalist, it is highly unlikely that X would implement this comparative logic as a means to motivate his people. This behavior proves more of a re-presentation of a comparative logic that an anti-black culture imposes on black greatness. Specifically, X’s castigation posits the white male as a figure of influence on a black man’s potential. This suggestion is in direct contrast to everything X was about, but in direct accordance with the “prime” audience of this Amazon feature.
This misrepresentation emphasizes reading the words of our ancestors and engaging with what they left behind, be it speeches, interviews, or texts as essential to our collective enlightenment.
III. An Undocumented Murder
The film ends with a quotation from the late Malcolm X made forty-eight hours before his murder. The moment is a poignant one for sure, but there is a pivotal omission. Cooke, who takes on a heap of the film’s criticism, is the first of the four men to make his earthy departure. Cooke was murdered on December 11, 1964, just a little over two months before X’s murder.
Though Cooke’s murder is important, it disrupts how how the film portrays him. The film depicts Cooke as racially blissful and resistant to a black nationalist ideology, though it was his desire for ownership that resulted in his murder. One of the first black male entertainers to don his natural hair, reduced to someone who would call his band “runaway slaves,” circumscribed Cooke to fit a role the film needed to occupy. This film, however, does not quite align with who he truly was. Cooke’s murder is one of many that would decorate the 1960s and proves that he was a lot more like Malcolm X, as America’s fear of black man is personified most resonantly by the bullet.
IV. A Call and Response Feature
There is, however, a scene in the film that stays with you long after the credits roll. In the scene. Malcolm X recalls witnessing Sam Cooke’s resilience and power as a man and as a performer. Cooke experiences a technical difficulty and finds himself alone on a stage in front of an indignant crowd. This adversity, however, only precedes the showcase of his brilliance.
The moments that follow are sheer black excellence.
With the band gone, Cooke enlists the crowd in an acapella performance of the “Chain Gang,” simultaneously reconfiguring the structure of the chain gang to a choir. The stomps and the grunts, followed by Cooke’s vocals perform a call and response tradition at the crux of black tradition and black liberation.
Though I was not entirely pleased with the casting of Cooke, I acknowledge the feat of finding a perfect match for a once a lifetime type of person. I will say, this moment was the best moment I have seen in a film in a long time.
I am not sure that I will live to see a proper presentation of blackness in its all its glory under lights as white as the media demands that frame its showcase. I can only hope that our continuous misconceptualization engenders the black audience to season their viewing experience with speculation.
May Muhammad Ali and Malcom X rest in the peace their strength and resilience gave all those who share their blood and legacy.