DATELINE: One Night in Miami
Upon hearing that a storyline made into a one-set play and thence a movie concerned a one-night meeting of Malcolm X, Cassius Clay, Sam Cooke and Jim Brown, all black men in the early 1960s on the cusp of change in civil rights for oppressed people, it’s hard to believe. It sounds like a fantasy of historical fiction.
Yet, it really happened.
The opening of the movie is not part of the original play and historical theories, though based on fact. The director Regina King had to open it up with white actors.
FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover had his bugs planted to listen in on a hotel room chat among these men in February of 1964. It’s hard to believe they even knew each other or would have anything to say to the other. Yet, they did.
In fact, Muhammad Ali (not yet Cassius X) was a close friend of Sam Cooke. They truly hit it off: an intellectual who read avidly like Cooke would seem to be swayed by the egotistic charm of Clay, but they had a kind of fame and cultural tie.
The training camp of Ali, he would attract the attention of Malcolm X and/or football star Jim Brown. Yet, it did, but the movie broadens the tale to include white hangers-on like Johnny Carson
Would a gospel Christian like Cooke even speak to a Muslim? Well, Cooke had been called the devil for singing pop tunes, and it would not be a big reach to be condemned for cavorting with a Muslim.
Would men whose personal ego and self-absorption in their careers be even remotely interested in anything larger? Well, segregation and racism would be a factor.
We suspect that Hoover had a detailed transcript of the discussion these men held: whatever fanciful chat that derives from the play/movie. Two would be dead within a year, and one would become a political controversy. Was Hoover’s unseen hand involved? This story doesn’t say.
The film blatantly ignores Jim Brown’s assault history on women, which could also be a Hoover set-up, but this is not explored.
Only Brown still lives, having gone into movies (Ali later followed). We suspect Cooke would have been a bigger star than all of them had he not been murdered (assassinated for black power over-reach?).
The movie is akin to a stereotype acting job, broad as a Marx brothers farce anchored in political doom. It’s ironic and iconic, but we’d rather see J. Edgar Hoover’s actual transcript of the night they all met.
On Jan. 22, Sam Cooke would have celebrated his 90thbirthday.