The bittersweet of ‘What If’: One night in Miami

BWSP
4 min readMay 23, 2021
eastmojo.com

This post is the result of the domino effect. Writing about Malcom and Marie led to a film being recommended to me — One night in Miami. Personally, I don’t think I can truly look at it critically with an unbiased eye, simply because I am a black person. The emotional aspect is going to be there. Thankfully, none of that matters because I am not a critic, just a woman with an internet connection and a platform.

What if

One night in Miami is what I like to call a ‘What if’ film, where the truth and fiction are so intertwined, those with limited grasp of the truth could believe the events occurred. To be able to merge these real timelines highlights how much was going on in Black American culture in the 60’s. It’s only a couple of years that are covered, yet it is still so much. We (The audience) have the privilege of retrospect — a double edged sword in this instance because you’re effectively walking the fence between; look at how far we’ve come and damn, why is this still the same.

First impressions

When I watch films I don’t watch the trailer and if it’s been recommended I won’t read the description either. As a result, the start of a film is what tells me where the film is going. When One Night in Miami started and I heard that jazzy intro song I knew I wasn’t about to watch the black version of Whiplash. I knew it was either one of two things: A dated character comedy where the main actor is black and experiencing some struggle but still getting the laughs out of life; or a film based on true stories. Some of you reading this will think — really? All that from a song at the start? Well… yes, a song doesn’t just make a noise, it sets a mood, a tone and holds weight. By choosing that as the intro song Regina King basically says ‘look this is going to be blackity black, if you don’t want it leave now.’

Tension

To begin the film with a fight and have them littered throughout the film stands as a reflection of society today, as the tensions are still just as high. I like that King chose to work with tension instead of aggression because there are a plethora of things causing tension in the film and we see a lot of examples of that. Cooke’s performances to his white audiences are uncomfortably tense, whereas Ali’s fights show how tense moments can bring everyone together. Jim Brown’s character introduction ends with tension as a result of racism and Malcom x is just a tense guy (I think it’s the glasses). We are not only shown the different outcomes tension can have but also the different forms of tension. Religious, racial, monetary tension but also a particular tension that many black people have felt before. That is, the tension between yourself and what degree of ‘blackness’ you’re giving out in order to be perceived as more palatable. The introduction of Aldis Hodge as Jim Brown depicts this perfectly. The vastness of Mr Carlton’s house, the connotations of it and Jim being able to sit on the porch with a fresh lemonade made for him but being refused entry into the house is done perfectly because it hits the audience in the face too, as the camera angle is from Jim’s POV and then on Jim’s slightly furrowed brow (because despite the level of disrespect, that is all the emotion society has allowed him to exhibit). This is beginning of a silent fight persistent throughout the film — wanting to be treated as an equal being in all parts of life.

Then and now

The hotel room takes up a significant amount of the film and I think this is great for a number of reasons, but mainly because it is how a lot of black people would have felt then and sadly still do now. To put such monumental men in a sub-standard hotel room is a visual representation of what the 60’s (and many other decades) were like for successful black people. ‘Look at me with my great friends and we’ve been forced into this below average box’. People coming in and out of the room but always returning back to the room in the end, serves as a symbol for black American culture. It screams ‘ you might not think we’re worth it, so you give us the minimum but there is strength in this and soul, even with just the simple things’- in this case ice cream and a record player. And in that there’s a sense of comfort that comes with the room. The fact that your eye is taken off the room surroundings by the close-ups highlights how the surroundings do not define or dimish the people in it. Despite the look of the room we are aware of the greatness within it, even more so than the characters are. This is where retrospect acts as a double edge sword because the audience are aware of their fate, as the fictional characters ponder about the future and how to make it better we’re sitting right in it.

There are many cups of sadness, hope and pride, mixed with a pinch of irony and a dash of resentment throughout. It’s all one messy cake, which turns out to be quite a tasteful film.

Not a critic. Just my thoughts.

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BWSP

Big world, small people. A small take on the big world.