NEW YORK, NY; March 29, 2017 - Filmmakers Ken Burns, Sarah Burns and David McMahon are producing and directing MUHAMMAD ALI, a two-part, four-hour documentary about the legendary boxer, Florentine Films and PBS announced today. Production began in early 2016 and the filmmakers anticipate a broadcast premiere in 2021 on PBS.
“Muhammad Ali may be the most iconic figure of the 20th century. He arrived at exactly the right moment, amidst the tumult and upheaval of the 1960s, and he shaped his times with his powerful voice, mesmerizing presence, and achievements in the ring,” said Ken Burns. “But beyond the astonishing athletic gifts and mountain of charisma, there’s a very complex, dynamic man whose life story has yet to receive the comprehensive treatment it deserves.”
Sarah Burns said, “Muhammad Ali’s passing last year gave us reason to celebrate his boxing feats as well as his contributions as an ambassador for human rights, and as a voice and symbol of pacifism. But it’s easy to forget how divisive a figure he was, proudly associating with the Nation of Islam, refusing induction into the Army before the Vietnam War had become deeply unpopular. We’re eager to get beyond the archetypes and examine who and what influenced his choices, and how he maintained the courage of his convictions when those choices seemed to go against the tide.”
David McMahon said, “Ali is among the most well-documented figures of the 20th century, filmed and photographed by the finest documentarians of his day. He was strikingly handsome, profoundly charismatic and knew how to draw a crowd and what to do once the cameras were rolling. We’re eager to pull all of this extraordinary material, as well as the thoughts and perspectives of the many eyewitnesses to his life, into what will be a vivid account of Ali’s life and times.”
Born Cassius Clay in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1942 to a sign painter and stay-at-home mom, Muhammad Ali became one of the best-known men of the 20th century, a three-time heavyweight boxing champion who captivated millions of fans throughout the world with his mesmerizing combination of speed, grace and power in the ring, and charm and playful boasting outside of it. At the height of his fame he took American life — the racial prejudices, the religious biases, the role of celebrities, the role of sports in society — and refashioned it in his own image.
His brazen outspokenness and unsurpassed boxing skills made him a heroic symbol of black masculinity to African Americans across the country, yet at times he seemed to take pride in humiliating his black opponents. In an age of sit-ins and freedom rides aimed at ending segregation, his deep ties to the Nation of Islam, a black nationalist organization that preached separation, made him, for a time, among the most feared and reviled men in the country. At the peak of his ability, he boldly sacrificed his career by refusing to go to war in Vietnam – and though he was condemned for it, Muhammad Ali would later be celebrated as a principled pacifist.
Burns, Burns and McMahon first worked together on THE CENTRAL PARK FIVE (2013), a two-hour documentary on the five black and Latino teenagers who were wrongly convicted in the Central Park Jogger case of 1989. Their two-part, four-hour film JACKIE ROBINSON, about the celebrated baseball trailblazer and activist, premiered on PBS in 2016. MUHAMMAD ALI will be their third collaboration.
The Better Angels Society is currently managing support opportunities for the Muhammad Ali film project and can be contacted at 413-341-3580.
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Brian Moriarty, DKC Public Relations, 212.981.5252; firstname.lastname@example.org