Independent Lens: The Trials of Muhammad Ali

About This Episode


The Trials of Muhammad Ali explores the extraordinary and complex life of the legendary athlete outside the boxing ring. From joining the controversial Nation of Islam and changing his name from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali, from his refusal to serve in the Vietnam War in the name of protesting racial inequality to his global humanitarian work, Ali remains an inspiring and controversial figure.

Focusing on some of the most noteworthy and provocative aspects of the legendary athlete’s life, the film explores his lifelong journey of spiritual transformation. From his Louisville roots through his years in exile to receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Ali's path was that of poet to pariah to global ambassador for peace.

Archival scenes highlight the forces that supported and opposed him, including his spiritual mentors and critics of his stance. Most of the interviewees have never been featured in any Ali film before, yet are central to his life story and the global impact he had. Interviews shot exclusively for the film include his brother, Rahman; his former wife, Khalilah Camacho-Ali; New York Times writer Robert Lipsyte; and Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. What emerges is the hidden history and a complex portrait of Muhammad Ali.