Tonight is a special night for fans of the greatest of ALL TIMES!!!
Premiering on PBS’s documentary series, “Independent Lens,” this evening is The Trials of Muhammad Ali, a stellar take on the boxing legend’s historic fight against public scrutiny and an impending jail sentence from the federal government due to his conscientious objection of the Vietnam War and his being drafted to fight in it in 1967.
For the three years that followed, Ali, the undisputed heavyweight champion, could not fight legally in the United States in boxing rings but he staged his greatest comeback victory in the courts, in speaking engagements on college campuses and in the media. Ali stood resolute as a member of the controversial Nation of Islam and gravitated more and more to the center of the youthful anti-war movement of the time, galvanizing a generation of protesters and challengers of the status quo.
Ali’s epic struggle in the late ’60s has been told and alluded to in many forms, including Will Smith’s Oscar-nominated performance over a decade ago, but this documentary provides a depth and a diversity of source material that even long-time Ali scholars will find impressive. Those particularly interested in Ali’s spiritual evolution will find much to appreciate here, as director Bill Siegel found and interviewed members of the NOI who were directly involved in Ali’s religious conversion, delving the story far beyond the champ’s fleeting relationship with Malcolm X prior to his assassination (in particular, Ali’s second wife, Khalilah, is a scene-stealer).
This is very much a film for those who appreciate Ali within a certain social context, the progressive hero whose prize fights were an allegorical complement for the lasting impact he made in the wider world surrounding the ring. Also, this film is important in that it brings home just how transformative a figure Ali was to society as well as how controversial he was during the late ’60s and how hated he was for a time, for reasons that now seem so fraudulent and petty.
The Chicago-based production company Kartemquin — known for films like The Interrupters — produced the documentary with Siegel, who has previously done docs on subjects such as the Weather Underground. In fact, WU co-founder Bill Ayers introduced the film at a screening of the film I was fortunate to attend a couple months ago on the campus of the University of Chicago.
You don’t have to be a flag-burner or former hippie to love The Trials of Muhammad Ali, though, this is a must see if you’re into the cross sections of sports, religion, politics and societal change or if you just like a well-done documentary.
Check the PBS/Independent Lens website for info on the film, tonight’s airing and upcoming re-airings.
More on The Trials of Muhammad Ali
A Different Kind of Fight Film: Bill Siegel’s “The Trials of Muhammad Ali” (Doc Soup)
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