*“Why do we need another film about Muhammad Ali?”
This was the knee jerk response given to filmmaker Bill Siegel when he began pitching his documentary, “Trials of Muhammad Ali,” a look at the champ’s battle to overturn the five-year prison sentence he received for refusing the military draft. HBO’s recent “Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight” covered the same territory, using actors to recreate the Supreme Court drama behind its 1971 ruling in favor of the boxer’s antiwar stance.
“I started working on this documentary long before that film started,” Siegel told the TCA on Tuesday. “So when I first heard about that HBO film, I was mortified. I just couldn’t believe it was happening. It was the same story. And then the director made the brilliant decision not to cast Ali and use archival footage. But, after some time, I realized that it wasn’t I wasn’t in competition with it, and it would be good, I thought, for both films to come out at the same time, which is what ended up happening.”
Still, there are tons of Muhammad Ali documentaries in the ether, and Siegel said he would distinguish his work from the rest by keeping interviews to a minimum.
“I just wanted people that were there. The woman that he was married to, the journalist who covered his entire boxing career [Robert Lipsyte], the last surviving member of the Louisville sponsoring group who launched Cassius Clay’s pro career, his daughter, his brother, Minister Farrakhan, and other close associates of the Nation of Islam, and just keep it to that,” said Siegel. “No outside academics commentating, no narrator, no interstitial text, everything that that and the trove of archival footage that exists out there, I knew, could make a film that hadn’t been made, and I think that it’s out there now.”
Ali’s wife at the time of his Supreme Court battle was Belinda Boyd, who converted to Islam and changed her name to Khalilah Camacho-Ali after their wedding in 1967. It was the same year he refused to be inducted into the Army and was immediately stripped of his heavyweight title. The Muslim fighter cited religious reasons for his decision.
Khalilah was a 17-year-old bride, and went on to bear him four children Maryum (b. 1968), Jamillah and Liban (b. 1970), and Muhammad Ali Jr. (b. 1972).
Below, the feisty Khalilah wants everyone know the type of husband Ali was, her exact role, in their marriage, from 1967 to 1977.
“The Trials of Muhammad Ali” will get a theatrical rollout across the U.S. ahead of its May 2014 premiere on PBS. You can find a list of cities in which the film is screening by going to the official site.
Watch the trailer below.