Imagination. A word that has been rolling around in my head for the past couple of months. The movie was promoted to the masses as if it were a historical event; when in reality it is a stage play converted to the screen curated by the beautiful, talented, visionary that is Regina King. The Black female director took ownership of this project under the creative wings of the playwright Kemp Powers.
It was Powers who imagined a conversation at the Hampton House hotel in Miami, Florida between boxer Cassius Clay, singer Sam Cooke, civil rights activist Malcolm X, and football player turned actor Jim Brown. The night imagined is February 24th, 1964. The conversation chronicles each male’s role as it relates to current events. It explores a pivotal point in the civil rights movement and creates an intersection between work and woke.
The film stars Aldis Hodge as Brown, Leslie Odom Jr. as Cooke, Eli Goree as Clay, and Kingsley Ben-Adir as X. Within each character, we discover a different expression of the Black American soul, which directly correlates to the collective everyday experiences of the Black American. When we start to discuss disenfranchisement in Black communities, we discuss education, health, access to wealth, and housing. The film explores through open minded conversations from inside of the Black mind, whereas we normally get to hear opinions from folks who do not understand the struggle because they do not reflect the struggle.
Kingsley’s approach as the main character Malcolm X is highly relatable to white and brown audiences alike, in a post-George Floyd America. But let’s revisit the film’s setting, the United States of America in 1964. The BLM movement and the civil rights movement arguably take place within 60 years of one another although white Americans have not yet been charged to rally with their privilege. What if they did 60 years ago? Can we imagine a new kind of America where George Floyd doesn’t die on national tv? Probably. Malcolm X was known as an aggressive leader.
His famous line, by any means necessary, is a passion point that Kingsley brings to almost every line in the script. He even walks in and out of rooms passionately. For a long time, the threat of Black empowerment created groups like the KKK, and he flawlessly carries that weight as if we, the viewers, are transported back to 64′. No fear? X also is very aware of his paranoia and increasing anxiety. It’s as if during the night in Miami, he’s holding onto a secret. The end scenes of the film take us back to reality with a scene showing his home being set on fire while he, his wife, and his children sleep inside.
The best comedic relief I’ve seen in ages. Eli Goree from C.W.’s The 100, brings laughability, calmness, and bravado to intense scenes through his portrayal of Cassius Clay, honoring his pre- Nation of Islam first and last name, which he changed to Muhammed Ali. I found this to be very remarkable. The intersection Cassius is facing is before he fully commits to the Nation of Islam, and is sort of a cheerleader for his friend Malcolm. We get to see this real-life transformation of someone who was not religious consider committing their life for a bigger cause. Goree is the character who reminds us that even though we are Black, some White people like us too, and we can agree on that. Malcolm humbly tries to explain to Clay that the use of the camera is one of our greatest tools in the fight for equity for Black Americans. He was onto something there. BLM is the civil rights movement on camera. So when Americans pretend not to see, the history has already been recorded, but I digress.
Hodge’s character Jim Brown is the everyday Black American male. He chooses money over ideology due to the belief that wealth empowerment is the Black American’s only true path to freedom and ownership in America. His counter-argument to X’s outbursts of them not doing it the “right way” is usually about having more money, financially, than X. “You don’t got a job, brother.” Hodge brings realness and strength to his character while honing an air of sensibility like in the scene where Malcolm breaks down, due to anxiety, and he comes to soothe him. “Brother, what is going on?” Mental health is on full display as it is a prominent stigma against Black males in society. Why don’t more men cry publicly?
Odom Jr as Sam Cooke is a match made in both singing and acting heavens. I truly believe this role was chosen for him, not just because he has the talent, but he also has, well…the wokeness. Odom Jr’s career stands out on its own from his Nationwide commercials to holding down the cast of Hamilton. He has the acting skills range and he’s able to suck you into whatever it is he’s performing. He is the opening scene of the film and the closing scene. Performing classic Cooke hits throughout the film, he explains how the record producer figured out the music industry secrets and used it to his Black advantage. “I bet them white people don’t know a Black man wrote that song though.” His story reminds us of the Black music legends who got screwed out of royalties because they did not understand the business. His arguments with Kingsley is the anchor of the script, as the two have enough passion to go at it forever. But which way is the right way to fight injustice if they’re all Black? I guess that’s the whole point of the film. The four men challenged each other to be more than just their gifts. We too are being challenged to change the way we work as it corresponds to our freedoms as Black people. Are we still on plantations or will we fight for what is due?
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