What’s My Name: Muhammad Ali

Rights of Publicity and Persona Rights: Muhammad Ali Enterprises LLC. Photo by Ken Regan. © 2019 Muhammad Ali Enterprises LLC

What’s My Name: Muhammad Ali follows the recent trend of resorting to all-archival materials in telling the story of The Greatest.

What filmmaker Antoine Fuqua seeks to do is tell Muhammad Ali’s story through his own voice.  This is the way to go.  There’s no reason for a narrator here.  Ali lived through both ups and downs.  Many of us know his story but this documentary takes it to an entirely different level.  We get both Ali the boxer and Ali the humanitarian.  During the first half, the focus is on the boxer.  There’s entire segments devoted solely to Ali’s boxing battles in the ring.

After starting out with a montage, we go back to Louisville, Ky. This is where Ali was known to everyone as Cassius Clay.  He would later go onto bring home the Olympic Gold Medal in Rome.  Ali’s life would change as he knew it when he defeated Sonny Liston and became the heavyweight champion.  Ali would change his name after converting to Islam and become close to Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad.  Of course, there’s the epic fight with Joe Frazier.  This fight came a few years after being away from the sport.  This wasn’t so much of his doing in as much as it was for standing up for his beliefs.  The 1960s were a different time in America.  Ali was against the war and in refusing to serve in the military, he would have to give everything up.

The next part sees Ali getting back to work.  By this time, everything has started to take a toll.  It doesn’t matter how many elite boxers he faces because he’s not as fast as he once was.  It’s during this second half in which we really start to see Ali the humanitarian.  The closing minutes take care of this with the clip from the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.  If there’s going to be a clip that gets you emotional, it’s going to be that one.

The all-archival approach is one that has worked for recent documentaries.  It’s an approach that is satisfactory to an extent.  This approach is one that allows for Ali to tell his own story.  There are other documentaries out there that take a different approach.  But for what director Antoine Fuqua is trying to do, this works.  Obviously, there are some aspects that fall short.  The documentary focuses on the best years of Ali’s life.  There’s not really much of a focus on the latter part of his life.  By which, I mean after Parkinson’s Disease took a toll on his speech.

What’s My Name: Muhammad Ali airs over almost three hours because there’s so much to tell.  This is one of the reasons why biopics almost always fall short.  There’s just so much out there!  Even with the documentary’s running time of 165 minutes, it still doesn’t feel long enough.  I can say the same about other documentaries about people of this stature.  For the content at hand, What’s My Name: Muhammad Ali serves as a solid introduction.

DIRECTOR:  Antoine Fuqua
FEATURING:  Muhammad Ali

What’s My Name: Muhammad Ali will premiere on HBO at 8:00-10:45 p.m. ET/PT on May 14, 2019. The documentary will also be available on HBO GO, HBO NOW, HBO on Demand and partners’ streaming platforms. Grade: 5/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.