Excerpts from Dave Zirin’s “Knocked the Hell Out by ‘The Trials of Muhammad Ali'”, The Nation. Posted May 1, 2014
The Trials of Muhammad Ali is the best documentary ever made about the most famous draft-resister in human history….What makes The Trials of Muhammad Ali, by Academy Award–nominated director Bill (The Weather Underground) Siegel so special, is that it succeeds where so many have failed. Finally we have a film that presents an honest, thorough excavation of Ali’s politics in the 1960s. Siegel, perhaps because he has experience chronicling the often messy movements of that era, is able to communicate Ali’s journey of rebellion against racism and war with nuance and without a hint of condescension.
Other films have discussed Ali’s allegiance to the Nation of Islam, but I can’t think of another film that delves as deeply into why a separatist group like the NOI would be attractive to Ali. Siegel, always off camera, interviews actual members of the NOI who were active in the 1960s to discuss what Ali’s presence meant to their organization. Other films have shown how Ali was a target of derision in the mainstream press for joining the NOI and refusing to serve in Vietnam. But I’ve never seen so much footage of people across the political spectrum—from William Buckley to David Susskind—excoriating Ali in televised settings with the Champ having to sit in a suit and seethe. Other films have discussed how Ali was sentenced to five years for evading the draft, a sentence that was eventually overturned by the United States Supreme Court, but I’ve never seen it examined to such a precise degree. This is the heart of Siegel’s film, and it’s explained in great detail why the Supreme Court—that supposedly apolitical body—desperately searched for a reason, no matter how paper thin, to overturn his sentence.
Other films have discussed Ali’s antiwar activism, but I’ve never seen such a bounty of new footage of Ali expressing his antiwar feelings in his own words. That’s truly what made The Trials of Muhammad Ali impress itself upon me like a stiff left jab…
Read the full review “Knocked the Hell Out by ‘The Trials of Muhammad Ali'”, The Nation.