Is Regina King’s ‘One Night in Miami’ Based on True Events?

One Night in Miami is now available to stream on Amazon Prime Video. The directorial debut of Watchmen star Regina King, the adaptation of Kemp Powers’ play is considered to be a major contender for the upcoming Academy Awards in a variety of categories, including Best Actor and Best Picture.

'One Night in Miami' stars (from left) Leslie Odom Jr., Eli Goree, Kingsley Ben-Adir, and Aldis Hodge.
‘One Night in Miami’ stars (from left) Leslie Odom Jr., Eli Goree, Kingsley Ben-Adir, and Aldis Hodge. | Amazon Studios

[Spoiler alert: Potential spoilers for the plot of One Night in Miami ahead.]

What is ‘One Night in Miami’ about?

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The plot of One Night in Miami follows four major 20th Century Black cultural and political figures as their lives converge at Miami’s Hampton House in 1964: Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), football player turned actor Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), musician Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.), and a young, pre-name-change Muhammad Ali (Eli Goree), still going by Cassius Clay.

Naturally, with such high-profile historical figures driving the story, many viewers might wonder if One Night in Miami is based on true events. The answer to that question is: yes, sort of.

Powers’ original play is, in fact, inspired by a real-life meeting between the four men that took place on Feb. 25, 1964, according to Vulture. The meeting is well-known due to the intense FBI surveillance that took place during it, likely due to the strong cultural influence the four men had at the time.

Despite this, a lot of what the men discuss during the film/play is fictionalized. During an episode of the “Write On” podcast, Powers called One Night in Miami “a work of fiction powered by the truth.” More specifically, he told IndieWire that the debate between Malcolm X and Cooke about the responsibilities of public figures was created for the story, based on his own internal struggles.

“How much of myself do I have to sacrifice to be accepted in this environment, in this world?” Powers said, referring to his time in the writer’s room for Star Trek: Discovery. “My psyche was split down the middle. I put these arguments back into the mouths who inspired that way of thinking.”

The film references real events and traits beyond its own story

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While the contents of One Night in Miami‘s plot might be fictionalized, it references many real-life events and character traits. The story notably takes place in the immediate aftermath of Ali’s legendary upset victory over boxing champion Sonny Liston. It also touches on a prior fight with Henry Cooper, where the British boxer often got the better of Ali.

Near the end, the film also recreates Cooke’s performance of the politically-charged “A Change is Gonna Come” on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. The real footage, as Vulture notes in the same piece, has been lost to time.

This aspect of the film, as Slate notes, features another bit of dramatic spin for the sake of the story. While the film presents the song as being a big jump into socially-conscious songwriting for Cooke after urging from Malcolm X, in truth, he had been moving in that direction for some time.