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The Conservative Critic

The Conservative Critic, Oscar Watch: One Night in Miami



Its Oscar season again which means its that time of year when a really long list of movies comes out that critics tell you are great but might actually be really boring, really stupid or full of nothing but progressive dreamscapes. The Conservative Critic is here for you to watch this long list of films and let you know whether or not you should bother.

Come March 15, 2021 when the list of nominees are announced, The Conservative Critic will be ready with predictions and a ranking of the best and worst and most politically motivated honored films. 

One Night in Miami is getting a lot of buzz and might make it on to the Academy Awards Best Picture list according to the industry insiders, but does it deserve it? 

The Conservative Critic will determine if it was any good by asking “Is it entertaining?” “Does it have intellectual/artistic value? And “Is it liberal propaganda?” 

One Night in Miami

Overall Rating: Not very good, but I wish it was

Based on the stage play of the same name with the screenplay adapted by the original playwright, Kemp Powers, One Night In Miami (“Miami”) is a unique historical fiction which asks the question “What would they have said to each other” of four prominent figures in American history who met one night in Miami, Florida on February 25, 1964. What Cassius Clay, Malcom X, Sam Cooke and Jim Brown talked about that strange night is unknown but what is known is the very next day Cassius Clay became a member of the Nation of Islam and changed his name to Mohammed Ali. 

Kemp attempts to answer the question: what happened that night? 

With fan and industry favorite, Regina King at the helm directing the film adaptation, I think its safe to say that everyone wanted “Miami ” to be genius if for no other reason but for our adoration of King.

Unfortunately, though the concept is intriguing and as a play extremely meritorious; the material does not translate well to film and the movie loses all of its merits in the heavy weight of being extremely boring. Further – Kemp takes liberties with a few important historical details in order to better punctuate the wokeness of his imagined reality which makes the film pretty heavily saturated in liberal propaganda. 

Is it entertaining? 

Rating: Dull

Without knowing the historical context of the night these four men really did meet in Miami (which I learned from the Smithsonian if you’re interested) – a movie which was billed as an “historical fiction about four heavy hitting civil rights leaders in 1960s miami” seems like it might be fantastical fun. 

Instead it is nearly two hours (but just shy, so brava Regina King) of really saturated conversation walking the viewer through dense and complex historical information into an ideological exploration of integration versus cultural resistance in the 1960s and perhaps beyond. 

It is quite simply incredibly boring. The gentlemen never leave their motel room and when the conversation gets heated, which is rare, it only escalates once or twice into a crescendo large enough to really bring the viewer in. 

As a play, I can see how this worked. In live theater, the emotions of an actor and the escalation of tension in a conversation can be communicated with far more subtly than on film. Additionally, culturally speaking, plays are expected to be a bit more weedy and are allowed more room for intentionally over intellectualized monologues and stunted pacing. A person who went to One Night in Miami as a play, was making a very intentional choice akin to the folks who see the robot presidents speak at Walt Disney World. 

As a film, it just doesn’t work. The viewer cannot get interested in the sleepy intellectual conflict between four men of the past. 

Does it have intellectual/artistic value? 

Rating: Extremely well done

“Miami” is an intriguing idea and very well written for what it intended to achieve. Kemp’s decision to ask and answer the question of why Cassius Clay became Mohammed Ali and what other implication might have come for the night before is an extremely creative way for him to educated viewers about the time period, the four important figures of the time and the overal feelings toward the Nation of Islam in the black community in the 1960s. The dialog is stunted with intention almost coming off as verse and even if the viewer didn’t know in advance the film was based on a play written by the same author – they feel like they’re watching a play throughout. One of Kemp’s smartest decisions was to choose to shirk reality when writing his characters. The viewer meets textbook versions of Kemp’s heroes based on public interviews and academic sources rather than versions that might be imagined as “how they really were.” The decision makes it easier for the heavy intellectual material to be swallowed without smarm or condescension and it also makes the plot more streamlined and less convoluted than it might have been otherwise. 

King does her best with the material she has and makes the most out of it. The costumes and sets are vibrant and shiny which is contemporary and accurate for the 1960s but also creates a surreal effect which suits the concept. She chooses to only move the characters away from the single motel room at the very beginning of the film to set the proverbial stage and at the very end of the film to wrap up the aftermath. This does nothing for entertainment value but intellectually it helps the viewer stay focused on the education and creates a sense of “in-it-togetherness” which binds these unlikely friends with a closer bond without having to give us their entire back story. 

The performances of the four leads on which the film heavily relied was the strongest element without which the film simply could not have worked whatsoever. 

The most obviously strong performance was from Leslie Odom Jr. (Hamilton, Harriet) playing Sam Cooke. Cooke who is most famous for his song “Send Me” is at this time a wealthy and famous pop star with multiple number 1 hits and his own recording label. Odom’s performance starts out slow but he wins the audience over with his impassioned contrast to the accusations from Malcom X that he is a sort of “white person loving” sell out and of course with his vocal performance on a few of Sam Cooke’s songs. Particularly his concluding ballad alleged by the film to have been written in response to that meeting, “Change is Gonna Come.” 

My personal favorite performance came from Aldis Hodge (Straight Outta Compton, Hidden Figures) playing NFL and film star, Jim Brown. Hodge does the most in bringing a sense of tangible relatability to his character without crossing over out of surrealism into realism. Less flamboyant than Odom’s Cooke, Hodge was a steadying force in the film almost acting as if one of us might have been sitting in the room that night full of skepticism and stern discomfort. Far too slight to be a believable NFL player, I manage to believe Hodge as Jim Brown anyway particularly in scenes where he was embroiled in physical conflict. Hodge suspends my disbelief absolutely that he is a frustrated famous football player a little annoyed to be stuck in a stuffy hotel room with Malcom X. 

Eli Goree (Riverdale, Ballers) as Cassius Clay/Mohammed Ali is the true breakout performance of the film despite other critical ravings over Kingsley Ben-Adir (Peaky Blinders, High Fidelity) as Malcolm X who I’ll get to in a moment. Goree plays arguably the most famous and iconic character of the film rivaled only by Malcolm X (and its still a horse race in terms of pop culture phenom) and he has to do it as an arrogant young boxer who uses terms like “jive.” I never once cringed at the performance of Goree in all of its color and joie de vivre. Not only was he incredibly believable as Cassius Clay, he was so riveting I briefly forgot that Cassius Clay was Mohammed Ali and was given a momentary surprise at the end of the film. So convinced was I that Goree’s Clay was on the fence about joining the Nation of Islam that I forgot I was already aware that he goes ahead with the choice. Goree manages to keep a lightness to his character’s persona reminding the viewer that he was very young and still searching for who he wanted to be and what contributions he wanted to make to the world. The performance is altogether intoxicating and it will be interesting to see if Goree, whose former credits are primarily considered “low-brow” television by the hollywood elites is able to leverage his role into a full fledged film career.

Kingsley Ben-Adir as Malcolm X is my least favorite performance which is not to say it was a poor performance. The surrealism of the characters made it logical for Ben-Adir to choose to play Malcom X as if he were on a constant press conference or a wind up toy version of the man himself (see above re: robot Presidents at Disney). I just simply don’t buy him as Malcom X. I am no historian or expert on Malcolm X and it comes as no surprise that he and I would agree on very little. However, I do know that he was a serious and stern man whose life filled with activism and strife greatly aged him in both physical appearance and countenance. He was also an incredibly convincing man whose charm was founded in being deeply articulate and very handsome but rarely animated. 

Ben-Adir did a Malcom X impression very well. But frankly it dipped into a President Obama impression with regularity (Ben-Adir does a President Obama impression professionally which makes sense) because there was no true Malcom X soul in the performance. Ben-Adir to me came across as an SNL Obama/Malcom X mixmash without much heart even if he did manage to perfectly pantomime his particularly hand gestures. He seems too youthful and too easily overshadowed and I do not feel at any point in the film that Ben-Adir really transforms. 

Overall the film is highly intellectual, well written and well performed and suffers primarily from the fact that it belongs on the stage and not on the screen. 

Is it liberal propaganda?

Rating: Unsurprisingly, considering its about Malcolm X, definitely very much propaganda

The movie opens with Sam Cooke, already a famous multimillionaire singer, bombing at the Copacabana with an audience depicted as stuffy rich white people and the very distinct implication that he is only bombing because he is black and the audience is racist. 

Next we see Jim Brown meeting with a man we think is a friend until he offers to help the man move some furniture and the man tells him bluntly, “You know we don’t let [racial slurs] in the house.” 

These two scenes set the emotional tone of the film and create a sense of the environment surrounding the attitudes of these men. The problem is that as tools to justify rhetoric, they are not actually true. 

Sam Cooke did bomb the Copa. But he didn’t bomb the copa in 1963 when he was a famous singer with multiple number 1 hits and a record label. He bombed in 1958 before his meteoric rise to fame which begs the question: is it possible the audience just didn’t’ really know who he was yet? Without being there its impossible to know but I have seen relatively famous bands bomb arena performances simply because the energy was “off.” It is outrageously unfair to the people who chose by their own free will to go see Sam Cooke at the Copa in 1958 to assume their boredom was founded in racism and its that kind of conclusion jumping that allows modern liberals to confirm someone’s racism and bias based on completely unrelated factors like upbringing, political affiliation and choice of Halloween costume. In fact, in 1964 after he was a major star, he recorded one of his most important albums, Live at the Copa, to a very enthusiastic crowd.

Further, Sam Cooke actually did write a lot of political music before he met Malcom X. The movie implies that it was his meeting of Malcolm X that changes his ways and made him his true spiritual self and then releasing the famous, Change is Gonna Come. But even featured in the film, Cooke had already released Chain Gang which is a commentary on prison labor plus he had Oh Freedom (anti-slaver) amongst others. And guess what a lot of people of all colors loved Sam Cooke’s music including Chain Gang and Change is Gonna Come. So the narrative from Malcom X, accepted as truth by the film, that “white people” are essentially the enemy of black people is not only false but also very much in line with the current progressive agenda to push critical race theory and separate all of us into our respective race and class related corners. 

Which is why the Jim Brown narrative is so important to the film. A liberal reminder that even if there are friendships of mixed races, the white person is probably no different than the racist guy who doesn’t let black people in his house. 

The Jim Brown meeting is a real meeting as depicted in the autobiography of Jim Brown. The only difference was the addition of the abhorrent racial slur. That singular difference is a powerful difference. To use the “n-word” for no other reason but to add shock value to an already troubling story Jim Brown had to experience is a cheap ploy to intentionally eradicate all humanity from the villain of the mean old white racist and to willfully project that racist man’s values onto a modern sensibility. Not only was the man racist, he was deeply so and he was malicious. The implication is that there was no saving the soul of the racist white man and certainly there is no saving the soul of white America. Its enough that the man didn’t like black people in his house. Clearly the audience will understand that means he is a racist. To add the racial slur to just increase the power punch is cheap and hypocritical. 

Ultimately the film allows for argument with Macolm X’s view of the world but it does not allow for any conclusion other than Malcom’s. He is the arbiter of morality and vision in the narrative and his truth is the only truth. Anti-integrationist rhetoric espoused and beloved by Malcom X is not only racist but imprudent to the wellbeing of minorities and is a beloved notion for modern progressive Americans who would love nothing more than we all feel like we cannot relate to one another and all we have is to fight for more ground on arbitrary sides defined by arbitrary characteristics we are unable to choose or change. 

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