“These four men, the reasons they’re icons is that they represent very specific ideas about Blackness, about manhood, about self-reliance,” explains “One Night in Miami” writer Kemp Powers about the icons at the center of this story. “The ideas they represent, the ideas can have the debate and use that to have this discussion, that has been had long before that night, this discussion that goes back to W.E.B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington,” he declares. “It’s a discussion we’re still having today. And it’s what’s the best way forward for Black people in this country?”
We talked with Powers as part of Gold Derby’s special “Meet the Experts” Q&A event with key 2021 guild and Oscar contenders. Watch our interview above.
Powers adapted “One Night in Miami” from his 2013 one-act stage play of the same name. It is directed by Oscar and four-time Emmy-winning actress Regina King in her feature directorial debut. The film imagines what would have happened if boxer Cassius Clay a.k.a. Muhammad Ali (Eli Goree), singer Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.), civil rights activist Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir) and football star Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) came together in a Miami hotel room after Clay defeated Sonny Liston in February of 1964. What transpires between these iconic men is a lively and timely discussion set against the backdrop of the tumultuous civil rights movement of the 1960s.
Powers is reflective about the film’s parallels to the convulsive state of American society in 2020, and his feelings about its relevance to the current cultural and political landscape. “It’s fascinating, but it also fills me with a profound sense of sadness. You long for the day when this can be a time capsule and represent a far-off time and not feel like it was written like it was something in response to something that is happening right now,” he proclaims. “When the play was first produced in 2013 it was considered prescient. When it was in London in 2015, it was considered prescient. Now the film comes out and it’s considered prescient. I look forward to when it’s not so damn prescient.
While Powers has previously been best known as a writer on CBS All Access’ “Star Trek: Discovery,” he’s having a breakthrough year, racking up accolades for not only adapting “One Night in Miami” but also writing and co-directing Pixar’s latest hit “Soul.”
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