Reel American HistoryHistory on trial Main Page

AboutFilmsFor StudentsFor TeachersBibliographyResources

Films >> Malcolm X (1992) >>

Ali (2001)
Directed by Michael Mann (The Insider, Heat), Ali tells the life story of boxing great Muhammad Ali. Following boxer Cassius Clay from young adulthood through his name change and on to one of his many comebacks – he won the world heavyweight boxing championship three separate times – the film attempts to shed light on the man behind the public persona. Filmed in documentary style, with hand-held cameras following Ali from the spotlight into back rooms, we see a man of great contrasts – one moment seemingly obsessed with matters of principle and the next making cynical compromises or hooking up with yet another woman. The film begins with Ali winning the heavyweight championship from Sonny Liston and concludes with his comeback effort against current champ George Foreman. In between the film deals with Ali's life outside the ring, including his affiliation with the Nation of Islam and Malcolm X, as well as his refusal to be drafted into the Vietnam War.

Like Malcolm X, this film revolves around the life of an important figure in history, as well as sports. Ali gives us another perspective on the influence the Nation of Islam held over its members. Also, the film shows the nature of the relationship between Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X (played by Mario Van Peebles), friends up until Malcolm's split from the Nation. Most importantly, perhaps, the two films are major efforts at reconstructing two very controversial African American leaders for the current generation.
Gandhi (1982)
In this Richard Attenborough epic Ben Kingsley plays Mohandas K. Gandhi, who introduced the doctrine of nonviolent resistance to the colonized people of India and who ultimately gained the nation its independence. The film begins with his assassination but then returns to his early adulthood as a practicing attorney in South Africa. A scene in which he refuses to leave a train (only because he is Indian) marks the start of his strategy of resistance against racial discrimination. Ghandi devotes his life to resisting British colonization and its suffocating policies in India and ultimately succeeds in gaining Indians their independence. Once civil war between Muslims and Hindus threatens to tear the country apart, Gandhi tries to stop the fighting by going on his famous hunger strike. Ghandi won eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor (for Ben Kingsley.)

Gandhi is a film to note when studying Malcolm X. The similarities are striking: both films are epic docudrama about historic figures, both of whom are assassinated relatively early in their lives, and the two films boast large and accomplished casts. Both films were shot in various foreign locations that worked to convey the epic proportions of the subject matter and the history surrounding it. Most importantly, like Malcolm X, Gandhi was a symbol of resistance against ethnic and racial oppression, and both were outspoken against imperialism. Ten years after Ghandi, Denzel Washington's performance as Malcolm is often praised and compared to Ben Kingsley's Oscar winning portrayal of The Mahatma.

See Also

Ali (2001)

Amistad (1998)

Bamboozled (2000)

Birth of a Nation (1915)

Death of a Prophet: The Last Days of Malcolm X (1981)

Dutchman (1967)

Glory (1989)

Hotel Rwanda (2004)

In the Heat of the Night (1967)

Killer of Sheep (1977)

The Last Supper (1976)

Raisin in the Sun (1961)

Rosewood (1997)

Shaft (1971)