Regina King's "One Night in Miami" delves into the immense pressures on black icons Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Sam Cooke and Jim Brown at the height of the 1960s civil rights struggle -- tensions that are just as rife today, its director said.
The movie, dramatizing a real-life motel-room meeting between the four towering African-Americans, had a drive-in screening outside Los Angeles Monday as part of the American Film Institute's AFI Fest.
Introducing the film via video in a year that has seen vast protests over black deaths from police violence, and just two weeks before the US election, "Watchmen" star King said she hoped her first feature film "will inspire your own conversations off-screen."
"Many of the things that are being discussed in this film are just as relevant today as they were 60 years ago," said King, tipped by some to become the first black woman nominated for best director at next year's Oscars.
The movie pivots on a heated debate between rights leader Malcolm X and soul singer Cooke over the hostility toward, and obligations placed on, successful black men.
"There is no more room for anyone... to be standing on the fence anymore," shouts Malcolm X.
"Our people are literally dying in the streets every day. Black people are dying every day. And a line has got to be drawn in the sand."
Production on the movie was briefly halted due to the coronavirus pandemic -- which also forced most of AFI Fest online -- but its stars rushed to finish the final scenes in the wake of protests over the police killing of George Floyd.
Aldis Hodge, who plays NFL great Brown, said it was a perfect time for the movie to be released "given the year we've had."
The film is set hours after Ali's first heavyweight boxing title win, over Sonny Liston in 1964.
Less than a year later, both Malcolm X and Cooke would be dead.
Leslie Odom Jr, an original cast member from Broadway smash hit "Hamilton" who plays Cooke, told the audience he never researched the singer's killing because he "wanted to present a guy that was full of life."
"That's the heartbreak -- he had so much to do still," he said.
Kingsley Ben-Adir said he subsisted on a diet of sushi and cigarettes to slim down into a "vulnerable and broken" Malcolm X.
The British "Peaky Blinders" actor is expected to contend in the lead actor awards categories for the film early next year.
The film hits select movie theaters on Christmas Day before launching on Amazon Prime on January 15.