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‘One Night in Miami…’ — a love letter to Black men

Aldis Hodge co-stars in Regina King’s feature film directorial debut

Colette Greenstein
Colette Greenstein
Colette Greenstein has been a contributing arts & entertainment writer for the Banner since 2009. VIEW BIO
‘One Night in Miami…’ — a love letter to Black men
(left to right) Leslie Odom Jr. as Sam Cooke, Eli Goree as Muhammad Ali, Kingsley Ben-Adir as Malcolm X and Aldis Hodge as Jim Brown in “One Night in Miami...”. PHOTO: COURTESY OF AMAZON STUDIOS

Regina King’s brilliant feature film directorial debut, “One Night In Miami…” is a celebration of Black men, brotherhood and friendship set against the backdrop of the political and cultural turbulence and music of a 1960s divided America.

Written by Kemp Powers (who also co-wrote and co-directed Pixar’s animated feature “Soul”) and based on his award-winning play of the same name, “One Night In Miami…” is a fictional imagining of a conversation between four friends: 22-year-old Cassius Clay (Eli Goree) — who would soon change his name to Muhammad Ali — Nation of Islam minister Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), singer and songwriter Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.), and football legend Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge).

Aldis Hodge as Jim Brown in "One Night in Miami" PHOTO: Patti Perret/Amazon Studios

Aldis Hodge as Jim Brown in “One Night in Miami” PHOTO: Patti Perret/Amazon Studios

The conversation takes place on the night of Feb. 25, 1964 at the Hampton House Motel in Miami’s Overtown neighborhood after Clay has defeated Sonny Liston in Miami Beach for the first time, capturing the World Heavyweight Champion title.

What’s striking and refreshing about the film is how the four men are able to display and share their vulnerabilities, insecurities and ambitions with one another, all the while engaging in a passionate discussion about being Black men, celebrities and leaders during a pivotal moment in the Civil Rights Movement.

According to Hodge, “Regina [King] definitely wanted to focus on the vulnerability, because the way she puts it, ‘This is a love letter to Black men,’” says the actor recently during a virtual press junket for the film. “I think she really wanted to sort of elaborate on the brotherhood that was there, because even though these men had differences, they still were there to support one another. They were down for each other. They were fighting for each other.”

After receiving a call to audition for the role and after reading the script and understanding the value of the message in the script, Hodge knew, he says, that the film had the potential “to really say something important and hopefully affect people in a real progressive way.” He adds, “Who knew that it would come out in the year that it was most needed? Serendipitous.”

Hodge, who may be best known for his role as MC Ren in the 2015 NWA biopic, “Straight Outta Compton,” began his career at the age of three as a model for print ads and commercials, transitioning to television when he and his brother Edwin Hodge (“The Purge” film trilogy) were cast on “Sesame Street.”

For more than 15 years, the actor has graced television and film in a variety of roles and projects ranging from last year’s thriller “The Invisible Man” with Elisabeth Moss and the 2019 drama “Clemency” starring Alfre Woodard, to the Showtime fictional crime drama “City on a Hill,” in which he stars as Assistant District Attorney Decourcy Ward opposite Kevin Bacon’s corrupt yet venerated FBI veteran, Jackie Rohr, in 1990s Boston.

In 2018, he played the titular role in the biopic “Brian Banks,” and in 2016 he appeared in the Oscar-nominated historical drama “Hidden Figures,” as well as the WGN America series “Underground” with Jurnee Smollett.

The opportunity to work with Regina King and to take the words written by Kemp Powers, a Black man, and to be able to imbue his character with depth, dimensionality and humanity was not lost on Hodge. For many years, the actor has been intentional about the types of roles he’s wanted to tackle as he’s guided his career onto a more purposeful path.

At the age of 14, after hustling for roles that weren’t written for him, that were marginalized to begin with, and being told on numerous auditions that he was “really articulate and educated, but not Black enough,” Hodge told his agents at the time, “‘I’m done with this’ — because this is not about character, this is not about acting. This is about serving somebody’s negative agenda about their perspective on what they think Black people are as opposed to what we actually are.’”

Hodge knew he had other options and focused his time on studying science and pursuing other interests.

The power of saying ‘no’ and the determination to make the hard decisions and sacrifices and sticking by them hasn’t been easy, but it’s been valuable. There were times in Hodge’s career when he didn’t work for months at a time, but he was willing and dedicated to carving out his own path without wavering. “And those choices then are the reason why I’m in the position that I’m in today, without regret,” he says, “because I didn’t compromise who I was for someone else’s stupid ideals of what they thought Black people should look like and be.”

And so, with his portrayal of Jim Brown in “One Night In Miami…” and his upcoming role in the highly anticipated DC movie “Black Adam” as the character Carter Hall/Hawkman opposite Dwayne Johnson, Hodge is very much aware of the big picture and his larger goals.

It’s about opening up more opportunities and more perspectives for Black people, for Latino people and even beyond. “All these marginalized groups and cultures in this industry that have had opportunities scrubbed away simply because of who and what they are, I want to open up the avenues for fairness in all those areas,” explains Hodge. “So, while I’m here, my charge is to really develop and give opportunities. That’s what I’ve been doing, that’s what I’ve been working towards, and over the last year that’s what I’ve had the opportunity to do in a much more virulent way.”

“One Night In Miami…” launches worldwide exclusively on Amazon Prime Video on Friday, Jan. 15.

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