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The Greatest Fight for the Greatest of All Time

By Titus Falodun Staff Writer | 9/13/2013, 6 a.m.
Today, Muhammad Ali is revered throughout the world as an American hero. But there was a time when the legendary ...
Muhammad Ali walks through the streets of New York City with members of the Black Panther Party in September 1970. Credit: David Fenton/Archive Photos/Getty Images.
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The Trials of Muhammad Ali

With The Trials of Muhammad Ali, director Bill Siegel turns his attention to Ali's "exile years," when the boxing champ underwent a spiritual transformation and fought a prison sentence for refusing to serve in Vietnam.

With The Trials of Muhammad Ali, director Bill Siegel turns his attention to Ali's "exile years," when the boxing champ underwent a spiritual transformation and fought a prison sentence for refusing to serve in Vietnam.

Today, Muhammad Ali is revered throughout the world as an American hero. But there was a time when the legendary boxer was a pariah.  

The documentary “The Trials of Muhammad Ali” unearths the truth behind the folklore that led a young black man from Louisville, Ky. to go blow-for-blow with a stern and unwavering U.S. government.

On April 28, 1967, Ali, the heavyweight champion of the time and practicing Muslim, refused to be inducted into the U.S. Army, because of his faith. He was immediately stripped of his heavyweight title for his stance. He was also sentenced to five years in prison.

Ali went from being the “People’s Champ” to “Public Enemy No. 1.”

Even renowned world-class athletes Joe Louis and Jackie Robinson decried Ali’s conviction. Both Louis and Robinson were military veterans, reiterating the overriding sentiments of a nation engaged in the Vietnam War.

The 1960s were a contentious time that produced some of the greatest minds, music, and messages to date. In essence, Ali was an amalgamation of these things, with his genius boxing in the ring, his poetic rhetoric, and his stoic stance on who he was and what he was fighting for.

“The Trials of Muhammad Ali” is not a highlight reel documentary; it’s a critical look at the failures of a nation, built on freedoms, in recognizing one of its greatest citizens.

Director Bill Siegel helms this grounded narrative, which features commentary from people intimately connected with Ali at the time. These figures include Ali’s younger brother, Rahman, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, ex-wife Khalilah Camacho-Ali, and other notables.

Mixing archival footage with modern day insights, Siegel’s narrative provides a nostalgic and introspective touch that eerily resembles another classic Ali documentary, “When We Were Kings.”

“It will always remain to me to be the best film on Ali,” Siegel told The Atlanta Voice. “The story in that film starts after this film ends.”

Leon Gast produced and directed “When We Were Kings”, which won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. He also is a close friend and mentor to Siegel, as well as an executive producer on “The Trials of Muhammad Ali”.

“Bill [Siegel] has two things going for him, perseverance and passion,” Gast told The Atlanta Voice. “No one has really explored in-depth that period of Ali’s life.”

“The Trials of Muhammad Ali” is very relevant to today’s audience.

“Here we are on the precipice of engaging in an act of war,” Siegel said, referring to the current tension between the United States and Syria. “And you can’t be a bystander; Muhammad Ali was not a bystander. He was in the ring even when he was out of the ring, representing himself.”

Directed by Bill Siegel; edited by Aaron Wickenden; music by Joshua Abrams; produced by Rachel Pikelny and Mr. Siegel; released by Kino Lorber. Running time: 1 hour 32 minutes. This film is not rated.

“The Trials of Muhammad Ali” is playing in Atlanta, September 13-19 at the Landmark Midtown Art Cinema. For showtimes, visit http://www.landmarktheatres.com/Market/Atlanta/Atlanta_Frameset.htm