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The term “greatness” is often associated with various aspects of our daily lives; whether it’s referring to food, travel, politics, and most importantly sports. The greatest debate in sports always lies around the never-ending question of who is the greatest.
Who was the greatest team? The greatest player? While we will have endless debates through generations on who the best was (Tom Brady vs. Joe Montana or LeBron James vs. Michael Jordan) – there is no question and certainly no debate on who the greatest of all time was and that was Muhammad Ali. HBO brings us a detailed examination of the greatest boxer that ever lived, through his own words, and through the lens of Antoine Fuqua and produced by a distinguished group of people including Maverick Carter and yes, LeBron James himself. What’s My Name: Muhammad Ali tells the tale of a man who was more than just a boxer; a man who revolutionized America and challenged the country in ways it had never been challenged before.
The film will produce all the greatest hits and lows of Muhammad Ali’s life. As Cassius Clay, his original name before changing it to Muhammad Ali in 1964 after converting to Islam, he ruled the boxing world as an amateur (winning the 1960 Olympic Gold Medal as a light heavyweight in the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome) and a professional (when he defeated the great Sonny Liston as a 7-1 underdog at the World Heavyweight Championship). As Muhammad Ali, he was no stranger to controversy. He led with conviction and his words were backed by actions. He refused to be drafted in the war in Vietnam, citing his opposition to the war on religious and moral grounds, which lead to the stripping of his boxing titles. He sacrificed his best years as a boxer as he was not allowed to box for almost four years which ultimately led United States Supreme Court to overturn his conviction in 1971 and allowed Ali back in the ring after this hiatus. He, alongside contemporaries such as Bill Russell of the Boston Celtics, led the makeup of what is known today as the activist athlete; a role we have prominently seen in the last years by leading sports athletes when it comes to unjust racial profiling, attacks, and excessive force on the African American community by police in America. This would not have happened without the work and sacrifice of Muhammad Ali.
Antoine Fuqua directs this riveting two-part documentary as he weaves through historical footage of Ali’s life and the story is essentially told through the perspective of Ali himself. Fuqua is no stranger to the director’s chair as the director has been directing for over twenty years, including the Academy Award winning film Training Day (2001) which gave the great Denzel Washington his 2nd Academy Award (Best Actor). He allows the story to seamlessly travel in time through Muhammad Ali’s greatest moments; his meeting with Nelson Mandela, The Rumble in the Jungle, the Thrilla in Manila and his associations with the Nation of Islam (including his relationship with leading Civil Rights figure, Malcom X).
HBO gives the director the platform to tell this story through a two-part documentary; and rightly so. Muhammad Ali’s life was consequential even after his boxing days. As attitudes began to change regarding his actions in the 1960’s, America and the world began to recognize that Muhammad Ali was indeed a once in a lifetime athlete that truly transcended sports. His contributions to society – whether it was fighting for racial injustice or protesting the Vietnam war conflict, allowed the world to see him as more than just a sportsman; but an ambassador of the truths and convictions that he possessed alongside millions of others around the world. Muhammad Ali was certainly aided by his infectious charisma and ability to dissect tough questions designed to ridicule him by the press at the time. HBO navigates this relationship with the press with his interactions with Howard Cosell and countless late-night television appearances. Muhammad Ali never lost his spirit, even after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease; a fight he lost in 2016 but never gave up on.
What’s My Name: Muhammad Ali – available now on HBO and HBO GO.
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