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After trading blows in a prison fight club with Archie Andrews on the hyper-dramatized version of the teen comic books, Riverdale, Halifax-raised actor Eli Goree is scoring an even more notable knockout in the new Amazon Prime Video film One Night in Miami.
The directorial debut for Oscar- and Emmy-winning actor Regina King, the film stars Goree as boxing legend Muhammad Ali — when he was still known as Cassius Clay — on the night he defeated Sonny Liston for the heavyweight crown in Miami Beach on Feb. 25, 1964.
Now streaming on the well-known platform after acclaimed premieres at the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival and Venice International Film Festival, One Night in Miami is largely concerned with what followed the fight where Clay first declared he was the greatest. Adapted from his own play by Kemp Powers, who is also the co-creator of the new Pixar feature Soul, the film portrays the relationship between the boxer and three other icons: African-American activist Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), soul legend Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) and football star Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge).
Called “one of the emotional pillars of the movie” who gives the young Ali a “touching vulnerability” by the Hollywood Reporter, Goree also earns the praise of New York Times reviewer A.O. Scott, who says he “captures the familiar rasp and melody of (Ali’s) voice, and also the champion’s wit and exuberance.”
Scott goes on to say that Goree’s performance shows that the fighter, “as playful as he could be, was also serious and brave, qualities that would come to the fore a few years later when he risked his career and his freedom to oppose the Vietnam War.”
The prominence of the film and its subject matter, with its four titans discussing how they can further the cause of civil rights, has also earned Goree a major feature in Esquire by Gabrielle Bruney.
Since his early breakout roles on the Canadian TV series Soul and ’Da Kink in My Hair in 2009, Goree’s career has been on a steady upswing that has seen him land featured roles on the HBO show Ballers and the Suits spinoff Pearson, as well as playing Munroe (Mad Dog) Moore on the aforementioned Riverdale.
In the article, he describes how his resemblance to a young Ali and his athleticism helped him land the role, how working with King kept him at the top of his game, and the importance of the lord of the ring within his own family.
“My grandmother had a picture of him up on her wall with all of her Black heroes,” Goree tells Bruney, “and my mom told me the first time she heard a Black person say that they were beautiful on television was when he said it, and that it meant so much to her.”
Bruney points out that although Will Smith earned an Acadamy Award nomination for playing Ali in 2001, she likes that fact that he gets a fresh interpretation in One Night in Miami from an actor who isn’t fully afflicted with fame and its “weighty baggage, hefted onto the screen like a clanking backpack full of gilded statuettes.”
For Goree, the film’s setting on a historic night nearly 57 years ago doesn’t detract from the fact that the issues discussed by its four legendary men remain as vital and pertinent as ever.
“As Black people, the stakes are always incredibly high with these issues in America,” he says in Esquire. “When the play was written, it was relevant. When Trayvon Martin died, it was relevant. In 2016, it was relevant. Unfortunately, this stuff is evergreen.”