If you could invite 4 historical icons, changemakers or culture shifters – dead or alive – to your dinner party, who would you choose? One Night in Miami makes a strong case for who your guests should be: Cassius Clay (about to be Muhammad Ali), Malcolm X, NFL star-turned-Hollywood actor Jim Brown and soul singer Sam Cooke. Four African-American titans.

With this film, Oscar and Emmy-winning actor Regina King makes her directorial debut, collaborating with screenwriter Kemp Powers, who adapts his own play. Together, they take you back in time to the singular moment in Miami in February 1964, reimagining the night that changed the course of these men’s lives forever.

Get the latest from the BFI

Sign up for BFI news, features, videos and podcasts.

After the Clay versus Liston fight, the action turns to Malcom X’s hotel room where he invites his “brothers” over to celebrate Clay’s World Heavyweight Championship title. Malcolm’s planned evening of sober reflection, with 2 boxes of vanilla ice cream as a light refreshment, cannot be more ironic for these 4 extraordinary legends. 

Soon enough, witty discussions turn into group contention, condensed in this “damn dump” of a room. Sparked by stresses in their own lives, their heated conversations soon echo the struggles of black America in 1964. 

We see Clay (Riverdale’s Eli Goree) confide in his friends that he is going to become a member of the Nation of Islam, while his mentor, Malcom (Britain’s Kingsley Ben-Adir), is preparing not only to leave the religious and political movement but to start his own. Soul singer Sam Cooke (Hamilton’s Leslie Odom Jr), meanwhile, is busy evaluating whether his artistry speaks enough on behalf of ‘the cause’, and football champion Brown (Hidden Figures’ Aldis Hodge) is getting ready to transition into the first black action hero, turning from the sportsfield to Hollywood for roles in films such as The Dirty Dozen (1967) and Ice Station Zebra (1968).

The most combative relationship of them all has to be between Malcom X and Sam Cooke – the binary ‘extremes’ of the group. With Clay the animated 22-year-old ‘man-child’ of the squad and Brown the voice of mellow yet rational reasoning, these 2 watch on as the militant leader and nonchalant musician go at it constantly. Like spectators at a boxing match, we’re hooked as we enter the room where it happened. 

With the help of her production designer Barry Robinson, costume designer Francine Jamison-Tanchuck and cinematographer Tami Reiker, King transports us back to this pivotal time period: its stadiums, concert halls, swanky hotels, poolsides and that famous diner. With impeccably cast actors who play black giants reflecting on how to best impact civil rights-era America, and then the world, in their individual careers, the film resonates powerfully with the Black Lives Matter era of today.

About the LFF Critics Mentorship Programme

Acknowledging a lack of diversity in film criticism the London Film Festival Critics Mentorship programme gives meaningful experience and opportunity to a range of talented emerging film writers to hone their craft and gain new contacts by being immersed in the film festival. Now in its third year, the 2020 programme was offered exclusively to 6 up-and-coming black writers who were mentored by Akua Gyamfi, journalist, commentator and founder of The British Blacklist, and film critic, journalist and screenwriter Kate Muir.

The mentees spent the 5 days of the mentorship programme making the most of this year’s hybrid festival experience, watching films virtually as well as meeting IRL to watch Mangrove at BFI Southbank on opening night, learning from their mentors and each other. They workshopped reviews in various styles, including for a broadsheet newspaper, a tabloid, Sight & Sound magazine and a podcast review.
As well as accessing the festival Screen Talks and industry events programme, they heard from leading names from the industry with a series of Zoom chats including with Steve McQueen and Kemp Powers, and UK film critics Mark Kermode, Baz Bamigboye, Anna Smith, Ashanti Omkar and Amon Warmann. They also spoke to Ebony Amoroso, Director of Inclusion and Diversity for Endeavor, attended a ‘meet the LFF festival programmers’ session led by Festival Director Tricia Tuttle, and met Ulrich Schrauth, the new programmer for the immersive and XR strand LFF Expanded, at BFI Southbank.
Each mentee was individually paired with a mentor from the LFF’s media partners (Evening Standard, Empire, Little White Lies , Screen Daily, Sight & Sound, Time Out), to give them insight into criticism and film writing for their outlet and giving them support to produce a number of articles from the festival.

“I’m impressed and inspired,” comments lead mentor Akua Gyamfi. ”It’s been an honour and a real pleasure to co-mentor this year’s LFF Critics Mentorship group with Kate. The young writers we chose exceeded expectation and are all testament to the brilliance of this scheme and how rich the critical world could be if it opened its doors to new and diverse writers.”
Lead mentor Kate Muir adds: “Meet the future of film criticism. I loved working with our emerging critics who were the real heroes of this year’s virtual London Film Festival.”