The Trials of Muhammad Ali

No, Muhammad Ali is not Jewish. But, certain films when placed in a Jewish context inspire truly Jewish conversation. In the early 1960s, Ali threw off what he called his “slave name,” Cassius Clay, joined the ranks of the Nation of Islam and refused to serve in the Vietnam War. His transformation into conscientious objector is legendary. The “poet became pariah” and his religious awakening led to a battle with the US government that culminates at the Supreme Court after the superstar risks going to jail rather “drop bombs and bullets on brown people”. Bill Siegel’s documentary, a favorite at Tribeca, tackles some of the greatest themes of our time: power, race, faith, identity and freedom from the legacy of slavery. The Trials of Muhammad Ali is not a boxing documentary, but rather a fresh perspective on a volatile time in our nation’s history. We are guided through rare archival footage of Ali’s journey featuring Malcolm X, Jackie Robinson and Joe Louis. The film features compelling current interviews with those who were there, including Ali’s family members, Robert Lipsyte, one of the first journalists to recognize Clay’s new name, and the controversial leader of the Nation of Islam, Louis Farrakhan. Like its articulate subject, Siegel’s doc “floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee.”
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