THE TRIALS OF MUHAMMAD ALI
The Trials of Muhammad Ali is a Kartemquin documentary exploring Ali’s lifelong journey of spiritual transformation. From his Louisville roots, through his years in exile, to receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Trials traces Ali’s path from poet to pariah to global ambassador for peace. At each stage, the challenges Ali faces go far beyond the boxing ring and ultimately encompass issues of power, race, faith and identity that confront us all.
The Trials of Muhammad Ali is not a boxing film and has no highlight reel. Instead, it focuses on Ali’s toughest bouts: his decision to join a controversial religious group, his battle to overturn a five-year prison sentence for refusing US military service, and his struggle with Parkinson’s. While other Ali films focus on his heroic exploits in the ring, they tragically under-examine some of the most noteworthy, provocative and resonant aspects of Ali’s life, such as his relationship with the Louisville Sponsoring Group, the Nation of Islam, and his Muslim faith.
In Trials, most of the interviewees have never been featured in any Ali film before, yet are central to his life story and the global impact he has made. Prior to becoming the most recognizable face on earth, Cassius Clay became Muhammad Ali and found himself in the crosshairs of conflicts concerning race, religion, and wartime dissent. In 1964, when the 22-year-old, Olympic gold medalist wins his first heavyweight championship, he shouts, “I shook up the world!”
But his earthshaking has only begun. Soon he announces he is a Muslim, a member of the Nation of Islam, and takes a new name: Muhammad Ali. After Ali is drafted to fight in the Vietnam War, he makes his defining expression of resistance: “No, I will not go 10,000 miles to continue the domination of white slave masters over the darker people of the earth. ”In 1967, after the US government denies Ali’s conscientious objector claim, he refuses military induction.
The government convicts Ali of draft evasion, sentences him to five years in prison, and revokes his passport. Ali is banned from boxing and stripped of his title. He begins life in exile within the U.S., vilified in many corners at home, while becoming an international symbol of opposition to unjust war.
As Ali files legal appeals round after round, all the way to the Supreme Court, he supports his family via a nationwide speaking tour, amidst a country divided over the war abroad and racism at home. Rare and riveting archival footage of Ali’s fiery speeches on college campuses and fierce exchanges during TV appearances, show him fearlessly speaking his mind as he fights for freedom. The Trials of Muhammad Ali delves deeply into a time when an emerging sports superhero chooses faith and conscience over fame and fortune. The fury he faced from an American public enraged by his opposition to the Vietnam War and unwilling to accept his conversion to Islam, has global implications for generations now coming of age amidst contemporary fissures involving freedom, faith and military conflict. Archival scenes highlight the life forces who support and oppose him, including his spiritual mentors, Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad, and critics of his stance, such as Jackie Robinson and Joe Louis. Interviews shot exclusively for the film feature those who were there: his brother, Rahaman; his bride, Khalilah Camacho-Ali; New York Times writer, Robert Lipsyte; and Nation of Islam leader, Louis Farrakhan. What emerges is the hidden history of Muhammad Ali, an opportunity for audiences worldwide to discover how his journey – toward a full spiritual embrace of Islam and through his humanitarian work around the world – challenges us to overcome today’s fissures of race, faith and identity.
The film is directed by Bill Siegel (The Weather Underground), and executive produced by Justine Nagan and Gordon Quinn for Kartemquin Films, Kat White (KatLei Productions), and Leon Gast (When We Were Kings).
With a noted tradition of nurturing emerging talent and acting as a leading voice for independent media, Kartemquin is building on more than 45 years of history as Chicago’s documentary powerhouse.
Academy Award nominated Margaret Avery visited New York recently to promote her new BET TV sitcom, Being Mary Jane, which is based on the movie which previously aired this July.
Avery co-stars in Being Mary Jane alongside actress Gabrielle Union (Think Like A Man), Image award nominated actress Tika Sumpter (Salt and Sparkle) and Robinne Lee (Hitch, Seven Pounds and Deliver us from Eva).
Avery, known for her unforgettable role as Shug in Steven Spielberg‘s The Color Purple (1985), is certainly no “one-hit wonder”. Although filmgoers may be able to trace her back only to that once-in-a-lifetime part, Avery has been a talented actor on the large and small screen for well over three decades.
Being Mary Jane is a story to which millions of modern women will both relate and respond. Mary Jane Paul is a one-woman-show: a successful TV news anchor, and an entirely self-sufficient powerhouse who remains devoted to a family that doesn’t share her motivation. Intense drama and unforgettable moments unfold as Mary Jane juggles her life, her relationships, her work, and commitments to her family. Being Mary Jane is an upcoming sitcom by producers Akil of the award winning, record-breaking BET comedy The Game, Girlfriends and box-office hits Jumping The Broom and Sparkle, comes an original movie with executive producers Mara Brock Akil (also Creator) and Salim Akil. Starring: Gabrielle Union, Omari Hardwick, Lisa Vidal, Richard Roundtree, Richard Brooks and Margaret Avery.
Avery contributes an outstanding role as Helen Patterson, caring mother to Union’s character Mary Jane. In Avery’s very own words, she describes Helen Patterson to be, “An over protective mother battling the debilitating disease Lupus. All while struggling to maintain an image of success.” Avery is ecstatic about her role in Being Mary Jane, her intense work ethic led her to the in depth description of her character Helen Patterson. She explains “…I wanted to understand my character so I did my research on Lupus and the various effects it has on the individual.”
Avery’s sharp skills as an actress helped her to move into TV roles, appearing in such established 70s and 80s series as “The New Dick Van Dyke Show,” “Kojak,” “Sanford and Son,” “Kolchak: The Night Stalker,” “The Rookies,” “Baby I’m Back,” “Murder She Wrote,” “Miami Vice,” “Spenser: For Hire,” a recurring part in “Harry O” (1973), and a regular role in the short-lived series “A.E.S. Hudson Street” (1977).