August 26, 2021
Muhammad Ali, a new four-part documentary directed by Ken Burns, will begin streaming on the PBS Documentaries Prime Video Channel Sept. 19.
It will be available in 4K Ultra HD.
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The new series, which was in development for six years, was also written and co-directed by Sarah Burns and David McMahon, whose previous collaborations with Burns include The Central Park Five (2012), Jackie Robinson (2016) and East Lake Meadows: A Public Housing Story (2020).
The film follows the life of one of the most consequential men of the 20th century, a three-time heavyweight boxing champion who captivated billions with his combination of speed, agility and power in the ring, as well as his charm, wit and outspokenness outside of it. At the height of his fame, Ali challenged Americans’ racial prejudices, religious biases and notions about what roles celebrities and athletes play in our society, and inspired people all over the world with his message of pride and self-affirmation.
Drawing from archival footage and photographs, contemporary music, and the insights and memories of eyewitnesses — including family and friends, journalists, boxers and historians, among many others — the docuseries is a sweeping portrait of an American icon. The series details the story of the athlete who called himself — and was considered by many to be — “the greatest of all time” and competed in some of the most dramatic and widely viewed sporting events in history, including “The Fight of the Century” and “The Thrilla in Manila,” both against his great rival Joe Frazier, as well as “The Rumble in the Jungle,” in which he defeated George Foreman to regain the heavyweight title that was stripped from him seven years earlier.
Muhammad Ali captures Ali’s principled resistance to the Vietnam War, his steadfast commitment to his Muslim faith, and his complex relationships with Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X. While largely celebrated today as an icon of American sport and culture, Ali was not always embraced. At times he was reviled by many in America, especially white Americans and members of the media. Ali faced a firestorm of criticism when he said, “I ain’t got nothing against them Viet Cong” — a stance that would result in five years of legal jeopardy and a three-and-a-half-year banishment from boxing.
Ali’s story is full of contradictions. Despite his ruthlessness in the ring, he was a symbol of peace and pacifism. Though committed to a faith that expected dignified conduct, he was notoriously unfaithful to his wives. A clever showman with unparalleled genius for promotion, he occasionally allowed partners and friends to take advantage of him. Endlessly trumpeting his own greatness, he anonymously donated much of his fortune.
Muhammad Ali includes interviews with Ali’s daughters Hana Ali and Rasheda Ali, his second wife Khalilah Ali, his third wife Veronica Porche, and his brother and confidant Rahaman Ali. Others appearing in the film include activist and former basketball player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, sportswriter Howard Bryant, historian Gerald Early, civil rights activist Jesse Jackson, friend and business manager Gene Kilroy, boxing promoter Don King, novelist Walter Mosley, long-time friend Abdul Rahman, and New Yorker editor David Remnick, among others.
Other titles coming to the PBS Documentaries Prime Video Channel in September include American Experience: Citizen Hearst, American Experience: Jimmy Carter, Season 1, American Experience: Reagan, Season 1, American Experience: Supreme Justice: Sandra Day O’Connor, American Masters: Raul Julia: The World’s a Stage, American Masters: Twyla Moves, Discovering Your Warrior Spirit with D.J. Vanas, Frontline: America After 9/11, Frontline: Boeing’s Fatal Flaw, Generation 9/11, Independent Lens: Harvest Season, Lives Well Lived, Nova: Bat Superpowers and Nova: The Cannabis Question.