One of the most famous moments in Muhammad Ali’s storied career came directly after his victory over Heavyweight Champion Sonny Liston in Miami Beach, on February 25, 1964. It is an understatement to say that Cassius Clay (he has not changed his name) was the underdog, and that Liston, who recently beat Floyd Patterson (twice) is considered a bully and the inevitable winner. But Clay won. When everything broke, Clay ran to the ropes, yelling at the reporters who doubted him: “Eat your word!” Then, surrounded by a group of excited people, Clay shouted, “I’M TROUBLESHING THE WORLD!” I wasn’t alive at the time, but watching the footage was an incredible sensation, and those who were there still felt electric when they talked about it. These moments, and many others, are captured and discussed in Marcus A.
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relentless assault of racist culture on the mind. They both stand as bold examples of what a free mind is like, what a free mind can do.
How these people intersect has been covered in documentaries, books, as well as several fictional depictions, such as last year’s “One Night in Miami” (directed by Regina King), Spike Lee’s “Malcolm X” and Michael Mann’s “Ali.” The EPIX series “Godfather of Harlem,” with Forest Whitaker as “Bumpy” Johnson and Nigel Thatch as Malcolm X, sees the vibrant world of 1960s Harlem, in which Malcolm X operates. “Blood Brothers,” based on the 2016 book Blood Brothers: The Fatal Friendship Between Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X, co-written by Randy Roberts and Georgia Tech professor of sports history from Purdue, Johnny Smith, brings friendship to the forefront. Roberts and Smith are the main interviewees here, acting as guides through a complex timeline, supported by documentary recordings of speeches, interviews, press conferences, weigh-ins, etc.
What happened was important, but what was also important was the lasting impact these two men, and their relationship, had on culture. Through Ali and Malcolm X the history of the 20th century can be seen, with conflicts and great written agreements in their friendship (and later their “farewell”). Helping in this regard are commentators such as Harvard’s Cornel West, Todd Boyd, professor of media studies at USC, and oral historian Zaheer Ali. There are also interviews with people who knew Ali or Malcolm X personally, including the two men’s now grown children.
There are still competing interests. Was Malcolm X’s interest in Ali purely self-serving? Ali’s vote of Elijah Muhammad, longtime leader of the Nation of Islam, over the shunned Malcolm X still seems hurtful, as does Ali’s public comments about Malcolm (“He’s just one lost individual,” meaning: disagree with Elijah Muhammad), told reporters, to William F. Buckley, of all people. The FBI’s role in all of this is highlighted, based on the disclosure “MLK/FBI,” released earlier this year.
Animated sequences in documentaries are now an over-the-top cliché, and should probably be discontinued unless they are an essential part of storytelling. The Thomas Brenneck score, performed by Brooklyn-based Hold Street Band, is a decidedly mix of funk, soul, jazz, steeped in New York, backing a different sequence with appropriate grandeur. The montage of footage—scenes of New York streets in the 1950s, 1960s, press conferences, speeches, footage of people getting off planes, surrounded by a group of people, or laughing together, talking together, is simply mesmerizing. Individually and together, the two men “rocked the world.” “Blood Brothers” shows why.
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