Filmmaker skilfully documents Ali outside the ring

  • June 1964: American boxer Muhammad Ali (fourth from right), formerly known as Cassius Clay, prays with his hands open in a crowd at the Hussein Mosque in Cairo, Egypt. He is wearing pants, no shoes, a short-sleeved shirt and a tie.

    June 1964: American boxer Muhammad Ali (fourth from right), formerly known as Cassius Clay, prays with his hands open in a crowd at the Hussein Mosque in Cairo, Egypt. He is wearing pants, no shoes, a short-sleeved shirt and a tie.
    ((Photo by Express/Express/Getty Images))

  • Legend on the street: American heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali walks through the streets with members of the Black Panther Party, New York, in September 1970. Ali was sentenced to five years in prison and his championship title revoked after he was convicted of draft evasion upon his refusal to serve with the American army in Vietnam upon grounds of conscientious objection. The decision was overturned in 1971 but Ali became a figurehead of resistance and a hero of the people.

    Legend on the street: American heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali walks through the streets with members of the Black Panther Party, New York, in September 1970. Ali was sentenced to five years in prison and his championship title revoked after he was convicted of draft evasion upon his refusal to serve with the American army in Vietnam upon grounds of conscientious objection. The decision was overturned in 1971 but Ali became a figurehead of resistance and a hero of the people.


The problem with making a documentary about Muhammad Ali — the most celebrated sports figure of all-time — is that every facet of his extraordinary life had already been analysed and dissected in microscopic detail.

From the superb 1996 Oscar-winning documentary ‘When We Were Kings’ — about Ali’s Rumble in the Jungle with George Foreman, to the Oscar-winning film ‘Ali’, starring Will Smith, there seems very little left to tell about the self-proclaimed greatest boxer of all-time.

Filmmaker Bill Seigal’s ‘The Trials of Muhammad Ali’, though, skilfully chooses to focus on the Ali’s life outside the ring, primarily his involvement with the Black Muslim movement and his refused induction to the army at the height of the Vietnam War.

Underpinning Seigal’s documentary is the often forgettable fact that Ali was once reviled as he was revered: a figure of hate for many Americans, struggling to come to terms with race relations, who considered him a conscientious objector.

That Ali didn’t have “no problem with them Vietcong” saw the reigning heavyweight champion of the world banned from boxing for three years and facing five years in prison while the courts decided what to do with him.

Although told in a linear fashion, it’s far more than just a paint-by-numbers documentary, helped by the rare interview footage Seigal has managed to unearth of the ever-watchable Ali, on talk shows and at college campuses, defending stance on Vietnam.

Ali eventually prevailed in his own personal war with arguably his most formidable opponent, the US Supreme Court, returning to the ring to win over the hearts and minds of the American people whose views on race and religion he helped change during those exile years.

‘The Trials of Muhammad Ali’ will be shown at BUEI, as part of Bermuda Docs festival, on Saturday at 8.30pm.

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Published Oct 16, 2013 at 8:00 am (Updated Oct 15, 2013 at 7:43 pm)

Filmmaker skilfully documents Ali outside the ring

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