I wanted to appreciate this movie more. And maybe if I had watched it at the beginning of my ‘One Night in Miami’ phase, it would have been more impactful. But for a movie about Muhammad Ali, I was surprised by how little it actually portrayed.
I had seen interviews with Ali before and was struck by how… simple he seemed. In truth Ali only had an IQ of about 78. Which does not take away from what made him iconic. But what that fact informs for me is why he spoke with no filter. Trash talking without a thought for any consequences. But it was also his brash and loud nature that made him stand out.
His low IQ also informs, for me, his… mutability? He was influenced into the Nation of Islam, becoming a face for them, and parroting their teachings, despite the fact that in essence, the teachings of the Nation of Islam ran very contrary to his own personal morales and beliefs.
Ali was a lover. Of everyone. While the murder of Emmett Till greatly effected him and he fought for black rights, he loved everyone. And this film did not even toe that aspect. Case and point, he had 4 wives, countless infidelities, and some 11 children.
And while people argue that his IQ meant nothing, he was smart in the ring. They talk about how he moved in such a unique way that opponents couldnt even touch him. The only strategy the movie portrayed was patience and endurance. In multiple fights, the strategy appeared to be: tire the opponent out, then punch him really hard.
This was 3 hours of my life, and I am not trying to say this was a bad movie. Misleading, maybe. Malcolm X was a big influence on Ali’s life, and we barely see their relationship at all. Ali became a huge civil rights movement activist. Will Smith’s performance of Ali was outstanding, it would have been impressive to see even one of his talks at a university, advocating for human rights.
I guess what I mean is, there was so much more to Muhammad Ali than just his boxing, and this film did him a disservice by leaving that out.

The Trials of Muhammad Ali

I admit an embarassing amount of ignorance. I admit to knowing very little of Muhammad Ali. (Case and point, that his real name was actually Cassius Clay.)
While I find organized religions to be… a bit frightening, Muhammad, while always a strong man, seemed to gain even more strength through his belief in the ideas of The Nation of Islam.
I also had no idea that The Nation of Islam was so… extreme in its beliefs in its infancy. While all religions must start somewhere, The Nation of Islam was fully against integration of blacks and whites in America. They were fighting for white suppression and black superiority.
Like Billie Holiday, Muhammad Ali had found a way into the world of white people. He had the unique opportunity, as an African American, to use his voice.
And like Billie Holiday, when he began to use his voice to stand up for what he believed in, people were not happy.
After refusing to be drafted to the Vietnam War, for religious, and honestly, personal reasons, the government was not happy. He faced a huge fine and possible jail time, as well as being stripped of his heavyweight champion title and boxing license. An attempt to pull him out of the public eye. Just as had been done when they refused to give Billie her cabaret license back.
I find this fascinating. And embarassing, as an American. All I had known of Ali was that he was a world class boxer, and, randomly, that he had saved someone from jumping out a window once. I had known that he was an upstanding human and a hero. Now I know that he was also extremely brave, and bold, and a strong voice for black rights in America.

One Night in Miami…

This film, based on a stage play, was the first feature film directed by Regina King. About a meeting of 4 friends in Miami, in 1964. Boxer Muhammad Ali (Cassius Clay), NFL star Jim Brown, Singer Sam Cooke, and Nation of Islam minister Malcolm X.
While simply, it is about them discussing their respective roles and influence in the civil rights movement. It strikes deeper into a conversation/debate/argument about black equality and the idea of staying true to oneself.
Though stated to be “based off true events,” while the meeting in Miami did happen, what happened in the motel room is mostly unknown. They did eat icecream.
In the film, Malcolm pushes all of them to stand up and fight for black equality, that they are the ones the world is watching. Muhammad, Jim, and Sam had all found success in a white world. He pushes the loose and joking Sam the most. Telling him that his voice has the power to move mountains. He prods at him, almost mockingly, that Bob Dylan’s Blowin in the Wind, speaks more to the struggles of African Americans than anything Sam has ever written, causing tempers to flair. Later, Sam concedes that he had always been jealous of the song, wondering why he hadn’t been the one who had written it. It is that song that spurs him to finally write something more than pop songs for white people. His song, A Change is Gonna Come, became an anthem for the civil rights movement.