Starring: Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge, Leslie Odom Jr., Lance Reddick, Nicolette Robinson, Michael Imperioli, Beau Bridges
OUR RATING: ★★★½
Amazon Prime drama directed by Regina King. A fictionalized story set on the night of February 25, 1964 in Miami, following a young Cassius Clay (Eli Goree), before he became Muhammad Ali, who joins activist Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), singer Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.), and football star Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), as they discuss the responsibility of being successful black men during the civil rights movement.
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Angelo Dundee: Finish him off! Cassius Clay: I’ll finish him when I’m good and ready to.
Myron Cohen: I want you to imagine a man, who for twenty-five years of his life, arrived to work every morning at nine o’clock. You could set your watch by him. Then suddenly one morning, after twenty-five years of punctual nine in the morning appearances, not only is he late, but he doesn’t look like himself. Big lump on his head, two black eyes, bloody nose, torn lip, clothes ripped, and disheveled. His boss says, “What in the world happened to you?” He says, “Oh, fell down a whole flight of stairs, almost got killed.” His boss says, “So this took you an hour?”
Mr. Carlton: No man who’s run one thousand eight hundred and sixty yards in a season needs to be so humble. Jim Brown: Actually, it was one thousand and eight hundred and sixty-three. Mr. Carlton: Oh, that’s more like it. That record is going to stand the test of time.
Jim Brown: You moving some furniture? Mr. Carlton: Mm-hmm. Jim Brown: Well, you know, you should let me help you with that. Mr. Carlton: Ah, so considerate of you, Jimmy. But you know we don’t allow n*****s in the house, so it’s quite alright. It really is wonderful to see you, son. You keep up the good work. Do us all proud.
Betty X: We are all alone if we go through with this. Malcolm X: For the moment. But I have one more potential ace up my sleeve. Betty X: What?
Malcolm X: Brother Cassius. I thought you might not be able to make it. Cassius Clay: Hey, man, ain’t no way I’m going into that ring without my insurance policy.
Malcolm X: You ready for tonight? Cassius Clay: Man, I’ve been training three years for this fight. I’m as ready as a person can be. Malcolm X: Well, still, it might not hurt to just tone down the rhetoric till after the fight. Cassius Clay: Why would I do that? Malcolm X: May be easier for you to focus, Cash, you know, if, for once, the only person gunning for your head is the guy in the ring and not the entire arena.
Malcolm X: And why would you model yourself after a person everyone hates, Cash? Cassius Clay: Because everyone in that arena pays a hundred dollars to see George lose. The way I figure it, win or lose the fight, George has already won the war. Malcolm X: Well, maybe you fellas just like going around with targets on your backs. Cassius Clay: Oh, we learned from the best, Brother Minister. Malcolm X: Touché.
Sam Cooke: [after Clay’s win they join Malcolm in his motel room] S**t, ain’t you too tired? Cassius Clay: Tired? Boy, I’m energized. Was before I even threw the first punch.
Sam Cooke: Willie Pastrano, that’s the dancing master, ain’t it? Cassius Clay: S**t, if he’s the dancing master, I must be the m*therf***ing inventor of dance.
Cassius Clay: I am two hundred ten and a half pounds of trouble, boys. And what they didn’t know was when they weighed me in, a half pound of it wasn’t even me. Jim Brown: Oh, what was it, Cash? Cassius Clay: It was a half pound of divine skill bestowed upon me from God up on high!
Cassius Clay: If tonight don’t prove God was with me, then nothing does! Jim Brown: Well, he sure as s**t wasn’t with Sonny. Cassius Clay: Oh, man, you know Sonny a damn heathen. And what do they always say, Malcolm? The penalty one pays for avoiding the path of righteousness is walking whatever other path they choose alone.
Cassius Clay: Yes, yes, Cassius Marcellus Clay is the new heavyweight champion of the world, boys! Sam Cooke: Yes, he is! Cassius Clay: And I don’t even have a scratch on my face! [looks at himself in the mirror] Cassius Clay: Oh, my goodness. Sam Cooke: What’s wrong, Cash? Jim Brown: What? Cash, what is it? Cassius Clay: Why am I so pretty? And I’m only twenty-two years-old. There is no way I’m supposed to be this great. Look, Alexander the Great conquered the whole world at the age of thirty. And I conquered the world of boxing at twenty-two, without sustaining so much as a scratch. Malcolm X: That’s right. Sam Cooke: There he goes! Cassius Clay: You do the math.
Sam Cooke: Alright. Where and when is this party going down? Cassius Clay: Yeah, that’s a good question. What’s on the agenda, Malcolm? Malcolm X: Well, I thought this would be a wonderful chance for us to reflect on what’s happened tonight. Like our young brother said, there’s no denying that greater forces were at work. Jim Brown: You mean, no one else is coming? Malcolm X: Oh, rest assured, my brother, you’re not missing anything.
Sam Cooke: Can we at least have something to eat while we reflect? Malcolm X: Yes, as a matter of fact, we do, Brother Sam. Just because I’m militant doesn’t mean I don’t know how to have a good time.
Jim Brown: [referring to the ice cream] Well, what flavor is it? Malcolm X: Well, we have vanilla, Jimmy, and vanilla. Jim Brown: S**t. Sam Cooke: How’s that for irony? Malcolm X: Last time I checked, Brother Sam, vanilla was your flavor of choice.
Sam Cooke: The entire city of Miami is celebrating Cassius’s win. Cassius Clay: Yeah, they was all expecting to be partying with Sonny Liston tonight.
Cassius Clay: I’ve been thinking long and hard about it, boys, and I’m officially joining the Nation of Islam. Sam Cooke: Cassius, are you sure that’s such a good idea? Cassius Clay: Why not? Sam Cooke: Well, I thought this Muslim jive was something to rile up white folks. Malcolm X: No, it’s no jive, Sam.
Malcolm X: We’re entering a new time where no one can hold us back from voicing our honest opinions.
Sam Cooke: Well, if it’s such a good idea, why don’t you become a Muslim, too? Jim Brown: S**t. Have you tasted my grandmother’s pork chops? And I like white women too. F*** that. Malcolm X: Oh, you’ll see the light soon enough, Jimmy. Jim Brown: I don’t need to, hanging around you. Ain’t you ever heard of guilt by association?
Kareem X: [referring to Sam] Your friend is quite the truculent one. Malcolm X: Well, entertaining white people in the South will bring the truculence out of any Black man.
Sam Cooke: [referring to Malcolm] He should be able to handle being called out on his s**t, especially since he’s made such a name for himself calling everyone else out on theirs. Cassius Clay: Why you got to push back so hard on everything, Sam? Sam Cooke: Because I’m a pushy m*therf***er. And I ain’t changing.
Cassius Clay: Mind if I ask you a question? Jamaal: Yeah, sure. Cassius Clay: You like being a Muslim? Jamaal: Well, it beats being a purse thief from Toledo.
Cassius Clay: I mean, was it hard, you know, giving up stuff? Jamaal: Well, I reckon so. I used to love me a nice Champale every now and then. Certainly miss my grandmama’s pork chops. Jim Brown: See?
Cassius Clay: [referring to Jim’s acting in a movie] I should’ve known as soon as you said “Black action hero,” the next part of that sentence was going to be, “who gets killed.” Jim Brown: It went well, man. I think there might be a future for me in this. Cassius Clay: Being the sacrificial N**** in some Western ain’t the same as the NFL, man.
Jim Brown: We’re all just gladiators, Cash, with our ruler sitting up there in his box, giving us the thumbs up or the thumbs down. Well, I don’t want no damn ruler. Alright? S**t, it’s only so much running one man can do, anyway. Cassius Clay: Oh, speak for yourself. I plan to run, dance, and fight well into my old age.
Malcolm X: I know when I’m being watched. Sam Cooke: How you know they wasn’t watching me? S**t, I’m famous. Cassius Clay: They ain’t all after you, Malcolm. Malcolm X: Yeah, Hoover’s lackeys have been following me around so long, they know where I’m going to be before I do.
Cassius Clay: Yeah, as a matter of fact, maybe some exercise is just what we all need. What say we stretch our legs, boys? Sam Cooke: Are you serious? Cassius Clay: As a heart attack.
Malcolm X: I figure I’d better start getting my life story documented in my own words while I can. Jim Brown: What are you talking about, man? Malcolm X: Jimmy, there’s been this feeling permeating the air as of late. Jim Brown: Uh, anger? Sam Cooke: Anxiety? Cassius Clay: Humidity. Malcolm X: More like menace. Foreboding, or death.
Cassius Clay: Well, I should be in movies too then. Damn, I’m too pretty not to be up on screen. Sam Cooke: There you go! Cassius Clay: And you too, Malcolm. Malcolm X: Yeah? Cassius Clay: You could be our director.
Malcolm X: Jimmy, what, you blew your wig?! Give me the damn camera! You lost your mind? You know how much this thing costs? Sam Cooke: I think we done hit a nerve. Malcolm done dropped the affected speech and everything. Malcolm X: Yeah, that’s right. I got more rep than all three, one, two, three of you clowns put together! Sam Cooke: Oh, come on, man! Rep don’t carry over from decade to decade. Tired-a** 1940s slang you using.
Malcolm X: [referring going to Saudi Arabia] Hey, you should consider coming as well, Sam. Leaving this country in the rearview for a while is a great way to get some perspective. Sam Cooke: No, I’m busy too. Malcolm X: One can never be too busy for some added perspective.
Sam Cooke: I may not dance around a stage like Jackie, or James Brown, but that’s not what I’m selling, alright? I’m selling my voice, my words, my image, my message. Malcolm X: Your message? The problem is, at the Copa, you have to sell that message to a bunch of white folks. Sam Cooke: That don’t matter. They got souls, don’t they? And every living thing with a soul can have that soul tapped into. I thought you’d know that.
Malcolm X: Black people, we standing up. We speaking out. Sam, you have possibly one of the most effective, beautiful outlets of us all. You’re not using it to help the cause, brother. Sam Cooke: The hell I’m not. I got the masters to my songs. I started a label. I’m producing tons of Black artists. Don’t you think my determining my creative and business destiny is every bit as inspiring to people as you standing up on a podium trying to pi** them off? Oh, wait a minute. I forgot. That’s all you do!
Sam Cooke: [to Malcolm] My point is that sometimes I feel like you’re just like all the rest of them people out there, obsessed with the stars.
Cassius Clay: What’s wrong with you, Sam? You’re supposed to be smooth, man. Sam Cooke: Ain’t easy being smooth with this sandpaper n**** around.
Malcolm X: [to Sam] You know, what is going on around us, it should make everyone angry. Well, you know, you bourgeois N****es, you’re too happy with your scraps to really understand what is at stake here. What, you think Cash being the world champ is going to protect him from the devils that harassed him from the first day that he got here? Cassius Clay: I’d like to see them try.
Malcolm X: And that is why, Brother Sam, this movement that we are in is called a struggle. Because we are fighting for our lives! And what words are we hearing from you, brother? Mm, Mr. Soul.
Malcolm X: And what you don’t get, Brother Sam, you’ve made it, brother. But for all the others, the majority of people who had their own self-destructive dreams and didn’t make it, what they left behind? All they left behind is a legacy of negativity! But that’s okay, because they all meant well.
Malcolm X: [to Sam] You will never be loved by the people you’re trying so hard to win over. Never. You’re just a windup toy in a music box. A monkey. That’s what you are. You’re a monkey dancing for an organ grinder to them. Jim Brown: Y’all pulled out the knives. And if I get cut, I’m fitting to hurt somebody.
Cassius Clay: Now, yeah, The Beatles, they’re funny. But they ain’t no Sam Cooke. They’re more of a fad.
Malcolm X: The bottom line, this is too important a time, brother, to be wasting a brilliant and creative mind on pandering. Sam Cooke: And it’s too damn hot in here to be wearing that blazer. So what’s your point? Malcolm X: My point is, Brother Sam, that I am just one voice in this struggle. Just one. And Cassius, Cassius. He’s another who pushes us forward with his fists, and with his words. And Jimmy, Jimmy pushes us forward with his fearlessness, and his relentlessness. My point is that you, brother, you could be the loudest voice of us all.
Malcolm X: I’m not making Cassius do anything! He came to me for insight. He had questions. His passion for Islam comes from a pure place, Sam. Cassius Clay: “Passion” is kind of a strong word.
Sam Cooke: Say, let me ask you something, Mr. Know-It-All. How is it helpful for Black people to run their businesses different than everyone else’s? Dumber than everyone else’s? Malcolm X: No. No one’s accused you of making bad business decisions, Sam. Sam Cooke: You might as well have.
Sam Cooke: He’s crushed for about six months. Because, six months later, that first royalty check comes in. And because Bobby’s the writer, and my company owns the rights to the song, that means every time some white girl buys a copy of that single, she putting money into my pockets. Our pockets. White boys out there touring around, they ain’t even know they working for us. Next thing you know, Bobby’s like, “The Rolling Stones want to cover any more versions of my songs?”
Sam Cooke: Everybody talks about they want a piece of the pie. Well, I don’t. I want the goddamn recipe. Malcolm X: I congratulate you on being so shrewd, brother. Sam Cooke: You just don’t get how everything’s not so black and white like you make it out to be.
Malcolm X: I just love those lyrics. Especially in the beginning. “How many roads must a man walk down before you can call him a man?” It’s as though he’s asking, “How much do the oppressed have to do before they can be recognized as human beings?” That really gets you thinking, don’t it? Sam Cooke: I already know “Blowing in the Wind,” Malcolm. I heard it when it first came out. Malcolm X: It didn’t make you angry? Sam Cooke: Why would it?
Malcolm X: [referring to Bob Dylan] This is a white boy from Minnesota, who has nothing to gain from writing a song, that speaks more to the struggles of our people, more to the movement, than anything that you have ever penned in your life, brother. I know I’m not the shrewd businessperson you are, my brother, but since you say being vocally in the struggle is bad for business, why has this old song gone higher on the pop charts than anything you got out? Why has this song gone higher on the pop charts than anything you got out?
Cassius Clay: We’re supposed to be friends, man! Malcolm X: [referring to Sam] Yes! Well, I am his friend, and that is why I am trying to give him a wake-up call! There is no more room for anyone! Not you, not me, not Jimmy, not Sam, no one to be standing on the fence anymore!
Jim Brown: I just wonder if all this pushing, and “hard line” this, and “hard line” that, is really about trying to prove something to white people, or, Malcolm, is it about trying to prove something to Black people? Malcolm X: Oh, well. It’s a very interesting way of looking at things, I suppose.
Jim Brown: I mean, if the goal is for us to be free, to really be free. Malcolm X: And you know it is. Jim Brown: Then the key is economic freedom. And no one’s more economically free than Sam. S**t, technically, he’s the only one of us not waiting on a paycheck from a white man. Malcolm X: Oh, I’m not waiting on no paycheck from no white man, Jimmy. Jim Brown: You don’t have a job, N****. S**t. In the literal sense.
Malcolm X: Jimmy, I am implying that brothers like Sam, and you, and Cassius, you all are our greatest weapons. Jim Brown: We are not anyone’s weapons, Malcolm. Malcolm X: You need to be, Jimmy. You need to be for us to win.
Cassius Clay: “Champ.” I could get used to that. Sam Cooke: Watch out. Malcolm will have them calling you “Champ X” like a damn fool.
Cassius Clay: We have to be there for each other. Sam Cooke: Why? Cassius Clay: Because can’t nobody else understand what it’s like being one of us except us. Sam Cooke: “One of us”? Cassius Clay: You know. Young, Black, righteous, famous, unapologetic. Sam Cooke: There’s going to be a target on your back. Cassius Clay: It was going to be there anyway.
Cassius Clay: That’s why they’re preaching to a deaf congregation, because they ain’t giving Black people what they really want. Sam Cooke: And what’s that? Cassius Clay: What you have, but take for granted. Power. Sam Cooke: Black power. I like the sound of that.
Cassius Clay: Power just means a world where we’re safe to be ourselves. To look like we want. To think like we want. Without having to answer to anybody for it. And after all we put in, don’t Black folks deserve that much? We can do whatever we want now, brother. So, tell me. What do you want to do? Sam Cooke: I want a damn party.
Sam Cooke: Malcolm, you’ve had the floor long enough. It’s time to take this party to the Fontainebleau. Malcolm X: You’ve obviously forgotten Brother Cassius no longer drinks. Sam Cooke: And you obviously haven’t smelled his breath in the last hour.
Malcolm X: Sam, what is this problem between us, Sam? Sam Cooke: I don’t got no problem with you. I got a problem with this guy. You used to be such a fun cat. Now you acting in private the way you are on camera. Malcolm X: Sam, I was always this person. Sam Cooke: Maybe, but you were also always so much more.
Malcolm X: Brother, you could move mountains without lifting a finger. Listen, if I give you a hard time, it’s, you know, it’s only because I think so highly of you. You know, you brothers, you all are our bright and shining future. I never lose sight of that. Cassius Clay: Well, you’re part of that future too, Malcolm. Malcolm X: I’m flattered, really. Sam Cooke: Taking the world on your shoulders is bad for your health.
Cassius Clay: Wait. So you’re going to help me cross over to being a Muslim, and then quit being Muslim? Malcolm X: No. No, no, no. No, Cassius. I will always, always be Muslim. You know, in fact, I guess you could say, I’m becoming more Muslim than ever.
Cassius Clay: [referring to Malcolm’s plan to form his own organization] You’ve been using me! Malcolm X: No, no, brother. I’m trying to save you. Cassius Clay: Wait. You’re the only one that needs saving!
Malcolm X: [to Clay] If you don’t believe in your heart I’ve been an honest friend to you, then you shouldn’t join me, brother. If there’s any part of you that believes that our time together has been motivated in any way by selfishness, or opportunism on my part, brother, I encourage you, walk away from me. Walk away from me with a clear mind and conscience, knowing that that is the right thing, that’s the only thing you can do.
Cassius Clay: [referring to the reporters] I guess I got to go talk to them, help them sell a few papers. Malcolm X: Absolutely. Cassius Clay: You coming? Malcolm X: Well, I don’t have any comments to make right now, Cash. And besides, they’re here to see you, brother. Not here to see me. Cassius Clay: I want you standing with me.
Jim Brown: This is one strange f***ing night.
Sam Cooke: I mean, just because I haven’t released any records about the movement, it don’t mean I haven’t written any songs about the movement. Jim Brown: Come on, man. Look, you know Malcolm. He’s all fire and brimstone about everything, man. Sam Cooke: But when I heard the Bob Dylan song, I was mad, man. Jim Brown: Why? Sam Cooke: Because it’s f***ing good.
Jim Brown: You should feel competitive, man. Sam Cooke: It’s not just because it was good. I felt like I should’ve written that song. I mean, I’m calling myself “Mr. Soul”, and I haven’t written anything like that. Jim Brown: Why don’t you start?
Reporter: Cassius, is it fair to assume that, since Malcolm X is standing here with you, that you’re seriously considering becoming a Muslim? Cassius Clay: I’m not considering anything. I am a Muslim. And from this day forward, I no longer want to be called by the name Cassius Clay.
Jim Brown: Say, man, now that this is out the way, don’t you think it’s about time to party? Sam Cooke: I’d say so. Jim Brown: Yeah, definitely.
Cassius Clay: Who’s the greatest? Crowd: You are! Cassius Clay: That’s right!
Johnny Carson: Sam, tell us. How do you come up with so many great songs? Sam Cooke: Oh, well, I just really try and observe what’s going on around me. Johnny Carson: What do you mean? Sam Cooke: Well, if you try and see what’s going on, and figure out how people are thinking, and really just determine the times of your day, well, I think you can always write something people will understand.
Elijah Muhammad: The world champion will no longer be known as Cassius Clay. He will be known as Muhammad Ali.
“It is a time for martyrs now, and if I am to be one, it will be for the cause of brotherhood. That’s the only thing that can save this country.” – Malcolm X, February 19, 1965
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