Reel American HistoryHistory on trial Main Page

AboutFilmsFor StudentsFor TeachersBibliographyResources

Films >> Ali (2001) >>

Forget What You Think You Know.

View the trailer

"What you runnin' from, son?"

This is the question posed to Cassius Clay by a couple of police officers while he is on a midnight jog. The jog makes up the opening scene of Ali, and it takes place the night of February 24, 1964, in Louisville, Kentucky. By the end of the film, October 30, 1974, the boxer will have become heavyweight champion of the world numerous times, a black Muslim in one of the most controversial movements in American history, and a "felon." Ali looks at the transformation of Cassius Clay into Muhammad Ali. What was Cassius running from?

Ali starts by showing Cassius Clay's first victory over Sonny Liston. In the first twenty minutes of the film, Ali is on top of the sporting world. Of course, this is when the problems begin outside of the ring. Ali is largely a movie depicting the trials and tribulations of Ali. The film starts showing the nature of Clay's affiliation with Malcolm X and the black Muslims. Shortly after the champ's victory, we find out that Malcolm X--Ali's closest friend in the black Muslim movement--has been suspended by the Nation of Islam. Things get worse. The film shows the assassination of Malcolm X and sells the theory that the murder was planned within the Nation of Islam. While bad things continue in his personal life, good things happen in the ring until the American government attempts to dethrone the champ by drafting him off to Vietnam. This is the main conflict in the film, and during this period we see the deterioration of everything around Ali: his money disappears due to the cost of the court battle, the black Muslims no longer back him, and the sporting world begins to question Ali's ability to regain his title.

After Ali's draft board case is cleared by the Supreme Court, he goes to Zaire to fight George Foreman in the infamous "Rumble in the Jungle." In Zaire, Ali once again jogs, and it becomes clear that at the beginning of the film Cassius Clay was not running from anything. Rather, he was getting prepared to run through American society and the rest of the world.

View trailer on YouTube.