Special to The VIPP Report:
By Sherlene Shanklin
On the 40th anniversary of the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’, I had the opportunity to get a sneak peak of the new documentary ‘I AM ALI’. To some he’s the ‘Greatest of all Time’ in the boxing ring, but he also refused to be drafted in the Army and fight in the Vietnam War. The member of the Nation of Islam and native of Louisville, Kentucky, faced adversity and still does to this day in his own hometown. But when you watch the film, there was a silver lining and that was his family. In the film, the father of nine, gives his fans a rare look into his life as a father. The two hour documentary shows you how the confident fighter stayed grounded and what meant the most to him.
The story of Cassius Clay, known today as Muhammad Ali, shows how he kept his family close even when they were thousands of miles away. His brother, Rahman says he and his brother were like salt and pepper. You didn’t see one without the other for many years. Rahman trained right alongside the champ. Their parents attended many of the matches and was there as he trained.
This film is unique because it is viewed through the eyes of his two of his daughters. They are the producers of the film. Back when recording phone calls and videos were virtually unheard of, Ali did just that to preserve history and memories for his loved ones. He says in the film ‘This is history’. He would have conversations with his children and record them. On one call he asked his young daughter did she know her purpose. In her little voice she responds that she wants to help others.
The film takes you through the stages of his life. It explains the reason why he started to learn the art of boxing. A Louisville police officer who happened to also be a boxing coach ran into Ali and his brother right after their bicycle was stolen. They were so upset that they literally wanted to fight anyone they saw. The officer suggested that they learn how to fight first. At the age of 12, weighing 87 pounds, that’s what he did. Right in the basement of the building where his bike was stolen, he learned very quickly how to defend himself.
The film takes you through some of the biggest fights in Ali’s career both in and out of the ring. From segregation to his boxing suspension. He says ‘Titles and a little money didn’t mean a thing if you are not free.’
NFL Hall of Famer and activist Jim Brown appears in the film. He discusses the turbulent times in Ali’s life where he showed courage when he was being isolated because of his beliefs, evading the draft, and having his crown being taken away. Brown says he thought Ali was suffering inside.
In 1967, Brown and other top black athletes met with Ali so he could discuss with them why he decided not to join the Army. Brown, Bill Russell, Lew Alcindor, (known today as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), Walter Beach, Bobby Mitchell, Sid Williams, Curtis McClinton, Willie Davis, Jim Shorter and John Wooten stood by Ali’s side in a press conference.
While Ali didn’t fight in the ring he found a new platform to have his voice be heard. He went to universities all over the country. The standing room only venues were full of scholars. Ali jokingly admitted that when he was in school he didn’t make the best grades but his knowledge and sincerity made him a scholar and respected by many.
The film talks to people close to him like his former trainer, the late Angelo Dundee, boxer Mike Tyson, and a rare appearance by Ali’s son, Muhammad Ali Jr. He talks about never wanting to be in the spotlight. Like most children with famous parents, fans always wanted Ali Jr. to measure up to his father. He said he found himself always being challenged to fight and when he didn’t, people would pick on him.
What’s so poignant in the film is when someone says ‘Who doesn’t know Muhammad Ali?’ I’ve travelled all over the world and when I say I’m from Louisville, one of the first things that many will say, isn’t that the home of the ‘Greatest’?
Throughout the film, I looked for Louisville landmarks. From Ali running down Broadway holding up traffic to a scene where his car turned off Main Street. It’s ironic that some 40 years later the Muhammad Ali Center would be built in the same area.
On a personal note: I’ve met Ali on several occasions, from him handing out autographed Quran Bibles in front of the Galleria, (known today as Fourth Street Live) as a child, to growing up and becoming a journalist covering him throughout his career as he has battled Parkinson’s disease.
Ali grew up in West Louisville, a predominately urban community and attended Central High School. I also live in that same neighborhood to this day. You watch him on television and have a sense of pride for your home state. I never thought about his international appeal. He’s one of the many who came from my neighborhood and went on to become a phenomenal success.
‘I AM ALI’ is in theatres and video on demand . In Louisville, you will be able to see the documentary at Village 8 Theatre.