'One Night in Miami' Tells the Story of a Legendary Meetup — Did It Actually Happen?

'One Night in Miami' tells the story of a conversation between Sam Cooke, Malcolm X, Jim Brown, and Muhammad Ali. What's fact vs. fiction in this tale?

Shannon Raphael - Author

Jan. 19 2021, Published 3:06 p.m. ET

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While top films used to debut exclusively at theatres, many of the year's best offerings are now offered through streaming services. One of Amazon Prime's most-anticipated new releases for January 2021 is One Night in Miami... which tells the story of a meetup between four legendary figures from the '60s: Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.), Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) and Cassius Clay, who many know by his later name, Muhammad Ali (Eli Goree). 

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Based on the stage play written by Kemp Powers, One Night in Miami... also marks Academy Award winner Regina King's feature directorial debut. 

Because the plot centers around a hangout between four historical figures, many viewers have wondered what the true story is.

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Is 'One Night in Miami...' based on a true story?

At the beginning of the film, the four men are seen struggling with various hurdles in their respective careers. 

For Cassius Clay, he's dealing with his shocking defeat against Henry Cooper. The boxer did lose in an upset against the Brit in 1963 at London's Wembley Stadium. 

Meanwhile, Jim Brown deals with a racist family friend named Mr. Carlton, Sam Cooke sings to an unfeeling audience, and Malcolm X is ready to part ways with the Nation of Islam. 

While Jim Brown did write in his autobiography about an interaction with a neighbor who wouldn't let him inside his house, the character of Mr. Carlton was created for One Night in Miami...

The main storyline featured in One Night in Miami... takes place a few months after these scenes. The four men spent an evening together at the Hampton House in 1964 after Cassius' fight against Sonny Liston. He invited them back to his motel room after his surprise win. 

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When the three others arrive, they realize that Cassius intended on just speaking as a group of four rather than having a party. 

The trailer notes that the plot is "inspired by true events," and the four main figures featured in the story did actually meet up after Cassius' fight. They were all friendly with one another leading up to this night.

While the meeting in question did actually happen, the contents of their conversations throughout that night are unknown. 

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They were fictionalized in the One Night in Miami... play, and they mainly centered around the men's different approaches to activism. 

Though writer Kemp Powers aimed to remain authentic to each person's point of view when writing the play, there's no way to know what exactly the four figures discussed on that February evening. It's also unknown if each of the men left that evening feeling as inspired or impacted as they did in both the play and the film. 

Breaking down the 'One Night in Miami...' facts vs. fiction.

One factual aspect of the film is that Cassius Clay did announce his conversion to Islam publicly after the fight. Malcolm X did serve as a spiritual advisor to him in the years leading up to this decision. Like the film shows, Malcolm himself actually split from the religion in 1964, and his friendship with Cassius deteriorated soon after.

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The movie also highlighted the tension between Malcolm X and Sam over their definitions of success. 

While Sam doesn't want to apologize for his music career, Malcolm says that he sold out and that he caters to white audiences. This then serves as the direct inspiration for Sam's biggest hit, "A Change Is Gonna Come."

According to USA Today, Kemp Powers did come up with the argument between Sam and Malcolm X, though he based it off of their respective beliefs at the time. 

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Sam Cooke also didn't write "A Change Is Gonna Come" after that night in Miami, so it certainly wasn't based off of his interaction with Malcolm X. Sam was inspired to write the song after his group was turned away from a Louisiana motel due to the color of their skin. It was recorded in January of 1964.

Within a year of the Miami meetup, two of the four men were dead. Sam Cooke was shot and killed in December of 1964, while Malcolm X was assassinated in February of 1965.

Muhammad Ali died in 2016 after a long battle with Parkinson's Disease. Jim Brown will celebrate his 85th birthday on Feb. 17, 2021.

One Night in Miami... is available to stream on Amazon Prime now. 

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