How ‘One Night In Miami’ Writer Kemp Powers Turned History To His Advantage – Contenders Film: The Nominees

One Night In Miami

When it premiered last September at the Venice Film Festival, Regina King’s directorial debut One Night In Miami was an early frontrunner for awards. Oscar-nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Song and Best Supporting Actor, the film is based on the acclaimed play by Kemp Powers, which tells a fictional account of the night of February 25, 1964, when boxer Cassius Clay, activist Malcolm X, singer Sam Cooke and NFL star Jim Brown, soon to become an actor, spend an evening together in a Miami hotel room.

Powers, who also adapted his own work for the screen, said during the Amazon Studios panel at Deadline’s Contenders Film: The Nominees virtual event, that, although his play debuted in 2013, it had been a long process to get there.

“It took me about two years to get the play up on its feet,” he recalled during the conversation that also included fellow Oscar nominee Leslie Odom Jr. “There’d been years of research that I’d done before, because when I first found out that this actual night did occur, my initial intention was to write a book about the friendship between these four men. So when I first started doing research—compiling interviews and information on all four men—the intention was always to write a book about their friendship and not to just focus on this particular night, because the particular night was a little bit confounding. There wasn’t a lot of information about the specifics of what they discussed.”

“I was really kind of flying blind,” he continued. “But then, as luck would have it, at the same time that my journalism career was winding down, my creative writing career was picking up. And the very thing that had confounded me as a wannabe biographer, so to speak—which was not being able to fill in the blank—was just the perfect fodder for a story that I wanted to tell that, honestly, is a conversation that’s been going on within the community since long before that night, and is still going on today. And that is: What, if any, social responsibility do you have if you’re a Black person in the public eye?”

Powers expressed gratitude for King’s control and guidance on the film, as did Odom, who plays Cooke and sings the movie’s Oscar-nominated song “Speak Now.”

“The most important job, I think, of a film director is to wrap everybody up in the same vision,” Odom said. “Actors are some of the last people to get to a set and start shooting. We get there and we’re like, ‘Where do I go?’ But the fact that we all arrived on day one and knew what we were there to do—we really understood what the marching orders were—is due to Regina’s clarified vision. And she gave us back something so beautiful. [She took] all the disparate parts of it, she unified it, and gave us back something so special.”

Check out the panel conversation above.

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