Muhammad Ali has long had an attraction for books and films
A partial list of Ali’s recent headlines might occupy a voracious reader.
“Blood Brothers,” co-written by Smith and Randy Roberts, was released in 2016, as was “Muhammad Ali: A Memoir,” by talk show host and frequent interviewer Ali Michael Parkinson. In 2017, released “Sting Like a Bee” by Leigh Montville, which followed the fighter’s dispute with the US government over his military conscription status, and “Ali,” a full biography of journalist Jonathan Eig. “Cassius X: The Transformation of Muhammad Ali” by Stuart Cosgrove appeared last year.
And these are just the books.
In addition to the films released this year, actor Michael B. Jordan is developing an Ali series with Amazon Studios, and a scripted series based on “Blood Brothers” is in development.
For sports fans and Ali aficionados, there is no shame in not keeping up with the pace. Even people who make a living at the intersection of boxing and black history can feel overwhelmed.
“I’m always shocked to see something there, and I’m always like, how do you tell something new?” Moore said. “I’m just going to take a break, but I feel obligated. I finally have to watch the documentaries. I’m pretty caught up with the books, but there’s always a new book too.
But experts also understand why Ali’s life makes for compelling books and documentaries.
The first half of the fighter’s career has featured a string of personal reinventions, from the exuberant gold medalist to the heavyweight contender who talks in the trash, to the world champion aligned with a black nationalist religious sect who refused to fight for Vietnam War. His membership in the Nation of Islam put him at odds with civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. Opposition to the Vietnam War made them allies later. These turning points, Smith says, helped modern audiences through a turbulent period in American history.
“It’s a prism for understanding American history,” Smith said. “Ali is unique as an athlete because he doesn’t just reflect American society. He shaped the discourse around race and rebellion, religion and war. This is why it has this lasting importance.
Moore traces another reinvention to March 8, 1971, when Joe Frazier toppled Ali in the last round of their historic title fight. Moore’s search of newspaper archives revealed that most predominantly white dailies still referred to Ali as Cassius Clay until Frazier’s fight, but switched to Ali sometime after – satisfied, Moore says , that Ali had been humiliated.