Regina King’s directorial debut with One Night in Miami has hit the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) but the premiere was almost pushed back when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the filmmaker some short three scenes.
“We did not know what the filmmaking protocols were going to be,” King said at a press conference on Friday. “Then George Floyd happened and the Brianna Taylor happened, well first Ahmaud Arbery happened,...we were now in this powder keg moment.”
The Oscar winner was able to keep editing while waiting to see what would be possible during the pandemic but the One Night in Miami team talked and agreed that “we’ve got to figure out a way to get this out now.”
King had to call Leslie Odom Jr., who plays Sam Cooke in the film, and Eli Goree, who plays Cassius Clay (later to be Muhammad Ali), to see if they would be comfortable finishing the film - they were more excited to get back to the movie.
“Just to hear the two of them being on the same page as well, that’s all we needed to know to do what we needed to do to make sure we could...get this done,” King said.
As TIFF is slightly different this year with its largely virtual format, King revealed that the Toronto event is her favourite film festival and described it as “bittersweet” because they couldn’t all be together. She added that she also would have wanted to be with Goree, who grew up in Halifax, share this film in Canada in person.
One Night in Miami is based on the 2013 screenplay by Kemp Powers and tells the story of a night in 1964 when Cassius Clay, soon to be called Muhammad Ali, defeats Sonny Liston. Clay celebrates with three of his friends, singer Sam Cooke, Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), and football player Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge). They come together in a hotel room to discuss the world they’re living in, race, culture and religion.
“I had never seen conversations like this happen before on the screen, small screen or big screen,” King said. “I felt like I was listening to conversation from just Black men speaking about the Black man’s experience and I wanted in on that.”
Powers describes One Night in Miami as a story about humanity, friendship and “love between friends who happen to be Black men” and how rarely that is showcased.
“The conversation that...I wanted them to have, it’s honestly a conversation that me and my buddies had freshmen year in the dormitory at Howard [University],” Powers said. “You have dreams, you want to have success as a Black man but when you get to that point...it always comes with a asterisk and it’s questions like, how much do I have to compromise of myself to success in this world that at times can be very hostile towards me?”
This film is a festival must-see that showcases an incredibly compelling, powerful cultural moment, with stunning Oscar-worthy performances from the four leads who play American icons. King, Powers and the cast stressed that the things that are being discussed in the film are just as relevant now as they were years ago.
“As a Black man I feel like where we are culturally is nothing new,” Hodge said at Friday’s press conference. “There’s a normalcy to the static chaos of our environment today, the chaos just has a bit more of a platform, it’s more exposed.”
“I think that we have an opportunity to really relay the message to those who really don’t understand it, we have an opportunity to teach those who are trying to have the conversation how to have the conversation, how to continue to debate positively, to continue aiming for progress.”
The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) takes place from Sept. 10 to Sept. 19. Information on screenings and tickets at tiff.net.