Ali is based entirely on the prime of Muhammad Ali's boxing career. For the most part, Michael Mann's Ali closely follows the fights and events surrounding Cassius Clay/Cassius X/Muhammad Ali's life from 1964-1971 and 1974. Yet, due to time constraints, Mann is required to be selective and succinct in this task. To accomplish this, he simply focuses on Muhammad Ali's most popular and important fights for this film. The film is set in between two historic and incredible fights: Cassius Clay vs. Sonny Liston and Muhammad Ali vs. George Foreman. In between, Mann displays a popular Ali vs. Frazier fight, the infamous Ali vs. Terrell locker room scuffle and fight, and Ali vs. Quarry. Also portrayed in this film are Ali's key life moments: his conversion to Islam, his draft resistance, his victory over the Supreme Court, and two of his marriages. This is the source for Mann's film, and most of these events have been recreated from historical evidence.
Mann also portrays Malcolm X, the Nation of Islam, and American intelligence from the 1960s. All of these representations are forms of recreated history. Also, the film deals with specific historical events from and around the 1960s. For example, the assassination of Malcolm X is portrayed, the reaction to the Emmitt Till case is screened, and Vietnam War resistance is shown.
Because the historical evidence of these events in Mann's film can be easily checked and examined, we can turn our attention to the portrayal of the history. We must realize that these historical records--boxing footage, interviews, newspaper articles, press-conferences, and others--have to be interpreted, reproduced in script, and imitated on screen. This is what we need to examine in Ali. For example, although Mann's Muhammad Ali figure is mostly historically accurate, some contest the imitation or recreation of Muhammad Ali's character and life. This is evident in the reviews of the film, and I have selected this as the topic of discussion for my "issue essay."