*PBS has set Monday, April 14 for the premiere of its new Independent Lens film, “The Trials of Muhammad Ali,” which examines the boxing legend’s life outside of the ring – including joining the Nation of Islam, changing his name from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali, his refusal to serve in the Vietnam War and his humanitarian work.
Director Bill Siegel tells Ali’s story through a mix of archival footage highlighting the forces that supported and opposed him, including his spiritual mentors, Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad, and critics of his stance, such as Jackie Robinson and Joe Louis.
Interviews shot exclusively for the film include Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, journalist Robert Lipsyte, Ali’s brother, Rahman and his former wife, Khalilah Camacho-Ali – who has something to say about all of the above.
“When [Siegel] came to me about this, there were key [interview subjects] that I thought would be more influential and that are still alive,” said a spirited Camacho-Ali at the film’s TCA panel in January. “Farrakhan was one of them. I grew up saying Uncle Louis. So, you know, I kind of knew this guy a little bit better.”
As for Lipsyte, who covered Ali for five decades as a New York Times columnist, Camacho-Ali commented, “He said he had 50 years of Ali. So did I.”
Ali is estranged from his brother Rahman, but Camacho-Ali insisted that Siegel include him in the film. In Feb. 2013, Rahman told UK tabloid The Sun that Ali’s final days were being marred by a bitter family feud fueled by his wife, Lonnie.
“We’ve all been pushed out. The only time I get to see him is at public events,” Rahman told The Sun. [Lonnie] and her family are draining him. It’s so sad. There’s nothing I can do, they’ve blocked us all off.”
More than a year after that interview, Camacho-Ali says the rift between the brothers continues. Listen below.
“The Trials of Muhammad Ali” premieres on “Independent Lens,” hosted by Stanley Tucci, on Monday, April 14, 10:00-11:30 PM ET on PBS (check local listings).
Watch a trailer below.