In literature and cinema, Muhammad Ali is already one of the most dug, dissected, and meditated-on characters of the twentieth century. This month, two additional films about the great boxer will be released. On September 19, Ken Burns’ eight-hour documentary Muhammad Ali, which he co-directed with his daughter Sarah and her husband David McMahon, will premiere on PBS. Blood Brothers: Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali, directed by Marcus A. Clarke and co-produced by Kenya Barris of Black-ish, debuted on Netflix on September 9th.
What is the Documentary Blood Brothers all about?
The complex connection between Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali has gotten a boost from pop culture in the last year or so: it was a major relationship in Regina King’s first film “One Night In Miami,” and it was also featured in the EPIX series “The Godfather of Harlem,” starring Forest Whitaker. As fascinating as these depictions are, truth frequently outweighs fantasy, as Netflix’s riveting documentary “Blood Brothers: Malcolm X & Muhammad Ali” demonstrates.
The documentary is inspired by Purdue professor Randy Roberts’ book “Blood Brothers: The Fatal Friendship Between Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X” and Georgia Tech’s Johnny Smith, both of whom are constant presences throughout the documentary. “Blood Brothers” beautifully recounts the historical background in which these two powerhouses formed, directed by Marcus A. Clarke (“Around the Way”) and produced by “black-ish” creator Kenya Barris (who, not long ago, stunned the industry by terminating his lucrative agreement with Netflix).
The film avoids the common cliché of portraying these individuals as outliers who climbed above their surroundings. Each, on the other hand, was a product of Jim Crow America, shaped by the prejudice that shaped their childhoods in Omaha, Milwaukee, and Lansing, Mich., for Malcolm Little, and Louisville, Kentucky, for Cassius Clay.
The Struggle Felt by Blood Brothers
Malcolm’s father, Earl Little, was slain by white supremacy in the guise of the Black Legion. Malcolm’s father actively spoke out against racial oppression as a disciple of Marcus Garvey, the early 20th-century leader from Jamaica who led a mass movement with a Pan African scope and vision emphasising Black pride and self-sufficiency.
Here, the grandeur of Malcolm and Ali resides not in their particular abilities, but in their daring decisions to utilise those gifts to confront the white supremacy that characterised not just their own lives, but also the life of the whole Negro race, as it was known at the time.
Each is drawn to Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam by this terrible racial reality. Malcolm X acted as a big brother to young Cassius Clay as an adult (almost 20 years Muhammad Ali’s senior), guiding him on his early road to heightened racial consciousness and activism. As “Blood Brothers” shows, he did not cultivate the seeds of activity in Ali. Maryum Ali, the champion boxer’s eldest daughter, attributes this to the savage hate killing of Emmett Till, who was only a year older than her father. Ilyasah Shabazz, Malcolm X’s third daughter, is also there to provide personal and professional insight into her father’s life.
Who witnessed their Friendship?
“Blood Brothers” looks carefully at others connected to the men, such as Ali’s brother Rahman Ali, who was physically there for most of his brother and Malcolm’s connection. A. Peter Bailey, a founding member of Malcolm’s Organization of Afro-American Unity, as well as several others, provide credible and balanced eyewitness historical accounts. Herb Boyd, a journalist and author who knew Malcolm and has authored or edited several books on him, and Herb Boyd, a founding member of Malcolm’s Organization of Afro-American Unity, provide credible and balanced eyewitness historical accounts.
Even well-known people like Cornel West, who was about 12 when Malcolm was assassinated and grew up in the period of Muhammad Ali, who was both a brilliant boxer and an outspoken critic of American racism and the Vietnam War, function as more than talking heads. His words, as well as those of USC professor Todd Boyd, who is approaching 60, have a distinct impact.
Now I leave it up to you to watch the documentary and experience it through your own eyes. I’ll take a leave but you stay and check out more articles on the series and movies that you would fall for.