Ali, a two-part, four-hour documentary film on the life and times of Muhammad Ali.
He was one of the best-known men of the 20th Century, a three-time heavyweight boxing champion who captivated millions of fans throughout the world with his mesmerizing combination of speed, grace and power in the ring, and charm and playful boasting outside of it. At the height of his fame he took American life—the racial prejudices, the religious biases, the role of celebrities, the role of sports in society—and refashioned it in his own image.
Born Cassius Clay in Louisville, Kentucky in 1942 to a sign painter and stay-at-home mom, he won an Olympic gold medal as a light-heavyweight at just eighteen years old. From there he rose quickly up the professional ranks, turning heads with his wit and swagger, matinee-idol good looks, and prodigious talent. His fights became worldwide spectacles like nothing seen before.
His brazen outspokenness and unsurpassed boxing skills made him a heroic symbol of black masculinity to African Americans across the country, yet at times he seemed to take pride in humiliating his black opponents. In an age of sit-ins and freedom rides aimed at ending segregation, his deep ties to the Nation of Islam, a black nationalist organization that preached separation, made him, for a time, among the most feared and reviled men in the country. At the peak of his ability, he bravely sacrificed his career by refusing to go to war in Vietnam – and though he was condemned for it, Muhammad Ali would later be celebrated as a principled pacifist.
He was a faithful Muslim, an unfaithful husband, a proud father and an adoring son. He loved to draw a crowd, magnetically attracting fans in airports and restaurants, on street corners, everywhere he went. And he loved to make money, but was exceedingly generous, quietly writing huge checks to pay off the debt of a nursing home or underwrite the care of an ailing stranger. “Service,” he often said, “is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.”
He was a fearsome warrior who vanquished nearly every opponent, but was finally brought down by his stubborn refusal to quit. After boxing, when Parkinson’s Syndrome had all but silenced him, he became an international hero, a saint, a symbol of freedom and courage. Today he is one of the most indelible and beloved men in history.
While there have been numerous documentaries about Muhammad Ali, the best offer, at most, a thin slice of his monumental life. Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, and David McMahon, the team behind The Central Park Five and Jackie Robinson, will give Ali’s life the comprehensive and definitive account he so richly deserves.
For more information, contact Kim Klein at 413.341.3580.