MIAMI – To successfully bring a play to the screen, the filmmaker must overcome the limitations of a limited set. Denzel Washington did it with “fences”. Sidney Lumet with “The Wiz”. Barry Jenkins with “Moonlight”.
“One Night in Miami” – a fictional version of the meeting between boxing legend Cassius Clay, civil rights activist Malcolm X, soccer star Jim Brown and soul singer Sam Cooke at the Hampton House – is no different. The film is an adaptation of the play of the same name by Kemp Powers and uses its set to show the beauty of blackness even in the darkest of times.
“The Hampton House is a silent star in the movie,” said Dr. Enid Pinkney. The former Brownsville Lounge and hotel are now the historic Hampton House Cultural Center, thanks to founder Pinkney who pushed the reopening in 2015.
Directed by the Academy’s award-winning actress Regina King, the story follows the four friends on the night of February 25, 1964 after Clay’s angry victory over Sonny Liston, before the upstart changed his name to Muhammad Ali. The fight took place at the Miami Beach Convention, but segregation prevented African Americans from staying around – even if they had just become world heavyweight champions. So X, Clay, Brown, and Cooke headed eight miles west to Hampton House, a high-end African American hotel that served as a refuge for a night of heated discourse even in times of racist animus.
“We had a place here in this community that was a prime place with air conditioning and a swimming pool,” said Pinkney. “… There was only pride in this building because of its elegance.”
With limited access to luxury at Jim Crow South, African Americans spent their free time in places approved by the Green Book, such as the Hampton House. King presented this story with pictures of black guests relaxing by the pool and the unbridled joy on the faces of guests in the hotel dining room, despite the racism that awaited them just outside the door. It’s also why the four men always looked sharp at the motel, even in the most tense moments of the movie.
“It was very important that the men in this room always looked good,” said King, who will make her directorial debut with “One Night in Miami.” “And to do that, we took a huge risk and finished the set at the last minute because we wanted to see each actor in front of different wood colors to make sure the choice complimented all four skin tones.”
Looking good has been a priority for everyone who stays at the hotel. Visitors never knew who might be in town: one night it might be Jackie Robinson, the next Nat King Cole, another Sammy Davis Jr. Between its dazzling out-of-town clientele and its on-site jazz club, the Hampton House was once a bustling one Place for the nightlife of Miami’s crowd.
“Hampton House was a bridge in the community that brought the community together regardless of race, color, or religion,” Pinkney said. “Wherever you came from, you were greeted at Hampton House.”
Pinkney’s work to preserve the real-life historic Hampton House, which was about to be demolished, culminated in a $ 6 million restoration project that opened as a nonprofit cultural center in 2015.
“One Night in Miami” is available from Amazon Prime.
Copyright 2021 Tribune Content Agency.