The more interesting, dramatic story that still needs to be told the playwright Kemp Powers saw only as a backdrop for Malcolm’s vulnerability. I understand the pop-culture impulse to Black Pack it–to show Sam Cooke, Cassius Clay-cum-Cassius X-cum Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown (who replaces Joe Louis in the broadcast booth as Clay beats Sonny Liston for the fist 🙂 time) and Malcolm X in a Florida hotel room and imagine what they talked about. With Martin Luther King absent from this meeting, the playwright decides in One Night in Miami to treat Malcolm as your annoying Jehovah’s Witness cousin who spoils your birthday party. The quartet are all at their own individual crossroads and discuss racism a lot, but the radical edge that is coming for this fantastic four as the ’60s grow late is blunted, only hinted at, a la Beneatha and Walter Lee in a Raisin in the Sun. By the time the purposely-shrunken (humanized?) Malcolm The Scold gets teased like a nerd, critically assessed (translation: he’s called full of shit! “You don’t have a job, Negro!”), humbles himself, cries, etc., and makes amends, the real film about Cooke (Leslie Odum Jr., showing Hamilton was no fluke!) has already started. One day someone will not be afraid to write about the decolonizing transition that Blacks–particularly Malcolm and Ali–really went through during this period; the weak closing quote from Malcolm shows that integration into American society on Black terms is all that this story was about, the only Black Power it can handle, and that is truly sad. (And when someone from a major studio has the courage to film that harsh-toned future script, that studio should immediately hire Regina King, who makes an extraordinary directorial debut here.) Two of the most radical African-Americans of the mid-20th century–two men that in their own ways personified Pan-Africanism after Marcus Garvey–remain in their comfortable rough-draft form, creatively but purposely.
This time-shifting mini-biographical tribute to Jesse Jackson Sr. reminds us why he is so exasperating and inspiring to so many. In thematic chapters, Masciotra goes back and forth from the 1960s to 2020, reminding the audience that knows (50-plus) and the audience that doesn’t (under 50) that he’s been here all along, connecting the eras of Martin Luther King to Black Lives Matter, from Aretha Franklin to Megan Thee Stallion. Displaying a good understanding of how hegemonic mass media works, the author does an excellent job showing and explaining why the uncontrollable, indefatigable, undefeatable Jackson consistently doesn’t fit the MSM program and perhaps only will after he transforms into a series of sometimes-accessed, highly-edited film and video clips. Jackson’s service to humanity, his always-public witness to injustice and his full membership in 20th century and 21st century public memory are all unapparelled among the currently living, regardless of motivation or rumor of motivation. He is the ultimate insider-outsider and the remarkable half-century of history of world human rights struggle he brings to the table cannot be duplicated by this current army of Millennial and post-Millennial Ivy League-educated “social justice activists,” no matter how concerned and committed they want to be. They will never have Jackson’s nerve because that only comes through walking through America’s fire repeatedly and nakedly, of being unafraid to publicly be who you really are, mistakes and all, regardless of who publicly hates you and for how long. Masciotra shows the Rainbow/PUSH founder constantly at a table prepared for him in the presence of his enemies. The fact that he often seems to be the agenda he is looking for at any table doesn’t seem so negative here in his Winter, especially after you total up the psychological, spiritual and social cost, the steep price of destiny’s frequent-flyer ticket. He breathes, so he leads until he leaves.