About the Film
The Trials of Muhammad Ali explores the extraordinary and complex life of the legendary athlete outside the boxing ring. From joining the controversial Nation of Islam and changing his name from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali, from his refusal to serve in the Vietnam War in the name of protesting racial inequality to his global humanitarian work, Ali remains an inspiring and controversial figure.
Focusing on some of the most noteworthy and provocative aspects of the legendary athlete’s life, the film explores his lifelong journey of spiritual transformation. From his Louisville roots through his years in exile to receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Ali's path was that of poet to pariah to global ambassador for peace.
In 1964, when the 22-year-old Olympic gold medalist won his first heavyweight championship, he shouted, “I shook up the world!” But his earthshaking had only begun. Soon he announced he had become a Muslim with a new name: Muhammad Ali.
In 1967, after being denied conscientious objector status, Ali refused military induction. Convicted of draft evasion, he was sentenced to five years in prison and his passport was revoked. Stripped of his title and banned from boxing, Ali faced an American public enraged by his opposition to the Vietnam War and unwilling to accept his conversion to Islam. Vilified in many corners at home, he became an international symbol of opposition to an unjust war.
Filing round after round of legal appeals all the way to the Supreme Court, he supported his family via a nationwide speaking tour across a country divided over the war abroad and racism at home. Rare archival footage of Ali's fiery speeches on college campuses and heated exchanges during TV appearances show him fearlessly speaking his mind as he fights for freedom.
Archival scenes highlight 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. Most of the interviewees have never been featured in any Ali film before, yet are central to his life story and the global impact he had. Interviews shot exclusively for the film include his brother, Rahman; his former wife, Khalilah Camacho-Ali; New York Times writer Robert Lipsyte; and Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. What emerges is the hidden history and a complex portrait of Muhammad Ali.
Bill Siegel, Director
Bill Siegel has more than 20 years of experience in documentary filmmaking and education. He co-directed the Academy Award-nominated documentary The Weather Underground; was a researcher on the films Muhammad Ali: The Whole Story and Hoop Dreams; and a writer on One Love, a documentary on the cultural history of basketball by Leon Gast (When We Were Kings). Siegel is Vice President of School Programs for the Great Books Foundation, a non-profit educational organization dedicated to literacy and lifelong learning.
This film is part of Diverse Muslim Voices, which builds awareness and understanding in the U.S. of the range of Muslim societies and cultures. Advancing the mission of ITVS’s Global Perspectives Project, a two-way exchange of independent documentaries, the multiyear project elevates stories about Muslim cultures through multiplatform promotion and distribution and ignites citizen engagement through live events and educational programs.