As you thought there couldn't be any more footage of live clips, scenes, photo exhibits, other artistic reinterpretations or the highly bestowed awards of honor related to Muhammad Ali, here comes a powerful new documentary titled, The Trials of Muhammad Ali. Hitting theaters nationwide -- including Los Angeles, D.C. and Philly amongst other cities on Friday, September 27 -- Academy Award filmmaker/director Bill Siegel (The Weather Underground) and the producers of Hoop Dreams focus on an Ali topic that's only been lightly touched on before in previous films or documentaries on him. Once overshadowed by much of Ali's colorful, entertaining gift of gab and the surrounding milestone events of his explosive boxing career, The Trials of Muhammad Ali instead explores Ali's risk of fame at the height of his boxing career, for which he put his human conscience above, and how he sacrificed big fortune for the sake of following his newfound faith in the Nation of Islam, including his relationship with then-controversial, Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad. Today's mega athletes might attach their namebrand to great causes behind cancer research, youth education, anti-gun violence, even religion á la Tim Tebow and the list goes on. But today, risking their individual fame and personal fortune is NOT part of this marketing plan. Quite the contrary, as today's athletes are coached by their agents -- outside of the fields or courts -- to elevate their client's profile (pocket-books included) by aligning themselves to philanthropic campaigns. After watching this documentary, their was absolutely nothing at the time to selfishly gain by Ali's sacrificial stances.
Muhammad Ali walking the NYC streets in 1970 w/Black Panther members.
Ali was a natural leader, so much that -- controversy, conflict and society's unwillingness to change -- followed him. Like any leader, sure Ali had his supporters. But there was always those against him, challenging him. Race of course at the time was a big factor. But switching his name and faith to the Nation of Islam? This made Martin Luther King, Jr's haters find a new (insert "N-word" here!) to hate even more. Ali didn't just stand tall above his TKO-victims in the ring, but his personality outside the ring in not backing down or staying true to his word, is what becomes exemplified in this doc. From before he was a professional, to during and after Ali wasn't just a gifted fighter. He was simply gifted. The footage from this doc makes your eyes refrain from blinking. Minister Louis Farrakhan aka The Charmer's calypso of yesteryear, "A White Man's Heaven Is A Black Man's Hell" plays in the background, alerting your ears as the Minister explains how slowly, but surely Cassius Clay gravitated towards the N.O.I. From still shots of his mom feeding Ali plates of fried chicken, to his dad working behind an exquisite bar, to his emotional older brother Rahaman Ali helping narrate intricate, early beginnings of the man once known as Cassius Clay, you're kept glued to the screen by the rare clips constantly flashing. Boxing was just a vessel for Ali, something similar to the vessel of music for Bob Marley. Like Marley, Ali's purpose was far more meaningful, or global than his craft of fast jabs and TKO's. That's why a gravitation towards Rastafarianism for Marley could be paralleled to Ali's solidification within the Nation of Islam. These so-called prophets were always looking for something higher in faith -- off the stage and outside of the ring. Also, even though the doc does draw references to Ali's fights with ringside footage of Sonny Liston, Floyd Patterson, Ernie Terrell and more, but this was more to bring a closer examination of WHO was Ali, the man. Not so much the skilled boxer. Especially bringing light to his struggles he faced through his years of exile after refusing to be drafted for the Vietnam War, the doc highlights him being stripped of his title, barred from fighting in any state, unable to leave the country and his sentencing to 5 years in jail, which was in the end overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, unanimously. So what'd he do in the meantime before he could fight again? He did what he was best blessed with, second to boxing. He made money using his gift of gab, by public speaking at colleges, rallies, forums and more. These years shaped his intellect, personality and provided the growth most of us find in our college years, or on the street. The Trials of Muhammad Ali showed Ali as a constantly evolving human being standing up for what he believed in, on the world stage.
Ali praying in Cairo, 4 months after changing his name from Cassius Clay.
Now there are some professional athletes today, for instance Pat Tillman of the San Francisco 49ers, who sacrificed fame and fortune, fighting for his country in Afghanistan during the prime of his career. He paid the ultimate price for it too. But he was by no means even close to the level of being one of the most celebrated sports champions, like Ali. Today, closer in stature to that of an Ali -- as far as them achieving the highest honors in their respective sports -- figures such as Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, Derek Jeter, Serena Williams, Michael Phelps, Tiger Woods, Brian Lara, Lionel Messi, or snap -- Floyd Mayweather, since we're on the topic of great professional boxers! Think he'd sacrifice the fame gained from all those 24-7 episodes or give up all that pay-per-view cash for a few years based on his faith, or conscience? Hells-to-the-NO! You'd be lucky to draw one out of the list that'll come even close to Ali's sacrifices.
Director Bill Siegel and Ali's ex-wife, Khalilah Camacho-Ali.
Ali's not just a great athlete, like many others. This film finally captures a complete depiction of why he's been such a great human being, making him one of the greatest athletes ever! I think, the true G.O.A.T.
See where and when The Trials of Muhammad Ali is showing in your city!
(All photos approved by and courtesy of The 2050 Group + Kino Lorber, Inc.)
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