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(The 2020 Toronto International Film Festival or, TIFF, ran September 10-20 online. Although Hammer to Nail wasn’t granted access to a press pass, we still have been running as much coverage as possible thanks to filmmakers and PR companies who want to see their films reviewed and noticed. Like what you see here on Hammer to Nail? Why not give just $1.00 per month via Patreon to help keep us going?)

Four men hanging out in a hotel room talking about what it means to be Black in America could be simply a quiet independent film but in the hands of Regina King using adapted material of Kemp Power’s stunning play, One Night in Miami keeps you somewhere between enchanted and mesmerized with the powerhouse performances of the leading men.

A fictional night with some elements of truth, the four men are musician Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr), Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), and Cassius Clay (Eli Goree) as they celebrate Cassius Clay’s heavyweight world championship win in a hotel room in February 1964. Each actor brings something unique to their roles but Odom, Jr’s powerhouse singing is a real standout. A special mention belongs to Joaquina Kalukango for her role as Betty Shabaz (wife to Malcolm X) who brings an intimacy to her role and steals the spotlight. 

The tension held between the factual knowledge of the celebrity and when they die is interwoven with just four friends talking on a personal level in ways we rarely got to see in the media. Powers, in the TIFF Q&A, said that the conversations were based on ones he and his friends had back in college and that despite fame one that is had by Black men in America to this day.

King brilliantly navigates between their persona and the intimacy of a small space and small conversation as the men slowly unmask their layers of ego and fame to remind each other of their friendship and who they are deeper down. As an audience, we are a fly on the wall to these conversations which give us a rare moment to just listen: something in 2020 that is even more critical. 

The film premiered at Venice Film Festival and followed at Toronto International Film Festival where it was named the first runner up for People’s Choice, losing to Nomadland. (I voted for One Night in Miami). Amazon Studios bought the film in June. A theatrical release has not yet been announced. 

– Melanie Addington (@MelAddington)


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Melanie Addington likes watching movies and has worked with the Oxford Film Festival since 2006 in various capacities and became Executive Director in August 2015. She also directs, writes, and produces films and serves on the Mississippi Film Alliance as President. She co-founded OxFilm, the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council's program to lend equipment to Oxford filmmakers.

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