I Am Ali, 2014.
Directed by Clare Lewins.
Starring Muhammad Ali, Hana Ali, Maryum Ali, Jim Brown, George Foreman.
The story of Ali’s life told through interviews with family and friends as well as audio tapes Ali made throughout his life with his children.
The most interesting aspect of I Am Ali is the amount of control Muhammad Ali had over the contents of the film. Ali is not interviewed by Lewins in the documentary that spans all but the last few decades of his life. The backbone of the documentary is audio recordings Ali made a point of recording and saving with his children and publicity video footage of Ali throughout his career. In that aspect Ali almost deserves a co-director credit for the film.
While the access to the audio recordings gives viewers an initial sense of being a fly on the wall of the private Ali, it soon becomes obvious that the important thing about these recordings is that somehow Ali KNEW audiences would want to hear them years later. It’s almost as if Ali was prepping for a documentary of his life all of those years ago and it’s hard to know if these recordings would match a phone conversation Ali had with his friends and family that was not being recorded.
According to his wives and children Ali was always “on” with people to some extent. Ali loved being around people. He sought people out and never tired of their attention – which is an aspect of his personality that clearly endeared him to millions of people around the world. While Ali was a bit “more on” when cameras were rolling it’s easy to see how Ali’s mix of cockiness and gregariousness made him a standout. He would tell anyone who would listen that he was ‘the greatest’ but he wasn’t above spending time with his fans.
The interviews with family and friends, including boxing legend George Foreman and Joe Frazier’s son Marvis, are gushing in their praise for Ali as a boxer and a person. Even Marvis, who revealed some hard feelings his father had toward Ali at the beginning of their relationship, ends up having nothing but positive things to say about Ali by the end of the interview.
For someone who did not grow up when Ali was famous one could easily look at some of his interviews with the press and think Ali was larger-than-life, conceited, rude, ridiculous, awe-inspiring, or any combination of those things. The family and friends interviews work well in many ways to even out the Ali publicity footage and give you a better sense of Ali as a person and not just as a boxer. However an interview or two of someone who wasn’t a fan of Ali or his media persona would have greatly strengthened the documentary as a whole.
Ali’s current struggle with Parkinson’s disease is only briefly mentioned in the film and there is no footage of Ali in the film that shows him with the disease. Lewins’ film is an entertaining and interesting look at Ali as a boxer, entertainer, and as a father and husband, but in the end it also leaves viewers with an incomplete picture of Ali as a man.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Amy Richau is a freelance entertainment and sports writer. Follow her on Twitter.