As Jim Brown, Lodge exudes an athletic prowess and powerful presence that Richard Pryor marveled at in his comedic routines. Back in the day, Brown was breaking records as the Cleveland Brown, tearing the pitch apart and gaining the admiration of fans everywhere. Powers uses Brown to emphasize how little black humanity means, no matter how famous they are. Beau Bridges has an unforgettable cameo as Carlton, a resident of Brown’s hometown of St. Simmons, Georgia who knew the Browns and is proud to say he’s from the same town as a future Hall- of-Famer. Her reunion with Brown seems great and friendly until one point when Brown offers to help Carlton move some furniture. Carlton casually reminds Brown that he never “allowed the niggers in the big house”. Lodge lets his face tell the story; no matter how tall you are, you are still not as good as an average white person.
Verbally, Gorée and Ben-Adir have the biggest shoes to fill. They play fast talkers, men who command attention because of the words they have spoken and the cadences in which they have spoken them. Clay sold woof tickets on his prowess while Malcolm peddled Black Power and Black Enlightenment. The two are inextricably linked in “A Night in Miami” as a major plot point is Clay’s conversion to the Muslim faith as a disciple of Elijah Muhammad. Clay is more than just a success for Malcolm, as Clay is serious and godly about his conversion, but Malcolm himself has doubts about his future in the Nation of Islam. Gorée is convincing in the ring in both fights featured here, and he’s also as funny and quick as his real-life counterpart, even with the emphasis without overdoing it. It’s his night to celebrate, but he willingly spends much of it making peace between others, especially Cooke and Malcolm.
Ben-Adir has the most difficult role to play here, and not just because he stands in the unavoidable shadow of Washington’s work. Malcolm is at times a self-righteous troublemaker, forcing the rest of the crew to view his power as black men in the public eye who either do not have his controversial background (Cooke and Brown) or are about to inherit it. (conversion of Clay to Cassius X). Ben-Adir must carefully balance these moments, keeping Malcolm’s power at the level of an audience that will push back. “I have something for your ass!” he tells Cooke after a big back-and-forth over whether Cooke should sing protest songs. Malcolm performs “Blowing in the Wind”, a song by a white man, to show Cooke that even Bob Dylan is more activist than him. There are a lot of bites in the interactions that populate this night, and Ben-Adir brings a lot of it. As big as this set is, his Malcolm stands out a bit more than the rest.