An eye-opening new documentary about late boxing champion and activist Muhammad Ali is currently in production and will explore what led Ali to break social boundaries.
Florentine Films and PBS announced Wednesday, March 29, that a four-hour documentary about Ali’s activism is set for a 2021 debut on PBS and has been in production since last year. The film will cover his life story, including joining the Nation of Islam, a Black self-empowerment organization, and refusing to enter the Army draft for the Vietnam War.
“Muhammad Ali may be the most iconic figure of the 20th century,” documentary filmmaker Ken Burns said in a press release. “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.”
Director David McMahon noted the film will utilize archival footage as well as eyewitness tales of Ali’s life to create a “vivid account” of the athlete’s experience.
“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 becoming deeply unpopular,” filmmaker Sarah Burns said in a release. “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.”
In a 1967 interview not long after he refused to enlist in the Army, Ali said he couldn’t face harming other people who never had a hand in his oppression as a Black man.
“My conscience won’t let me go shoot my brother or some darker people or some poor, hungry people in the mud for big, powerful America and shoot them,” Ali said of the war. “For what? They never called me n—–. They never lynched me. They never put no dogs on me. They never robbed me of my nationality or raped and killed my mother and father. …
“How can I shoot them poor people? Just take me to jail.”
The PBS documentary follows another one executive produced by LeBron James and announced in December for HBO, which is directed by Antoine Fuqua.