City of Ali: Louisville Celebrates Muhammad Ali’s Life

The Hearse goes through the streets in City of Ali. Courtesy of Abramorama.

City of Ali looks back on boxer Muhammad Ali’s 2016 passing and how the city of Louisville, friends, fans, and media celebrated his life.

The most pressing question that this film seeks to answer is: How do you say goodbye to The Greatest? It isn’t easy but it was in the works for a few years before his passing. I’m a Louisville native. You couldn’t grow up in the city without knowing who Ali was. In fact, I almost was in his presence a few years before he died. Unfortunately, he had to cancel his appearance that morning for health reasons. In any event, if you’re a native of the city but not living in Louisville at the moment, you will get homesick.

Watching the funeral procession five years later is a sight that still gives one chills throughout their body. How can you not tear up when you see all the fans who’ve come out to say goodbye? I remember rushing back from my contract job that June just to watch the funeral and procession. The chills I have today are the same chills I have from five years ago. The documentary–too short at 81 minutes but I’m biased–features some highlights from the memorial service including Billy Crystal and President Bill Clinton.

Planning the memorial and everything around the occasion wasn’t an easy feat. The documentary takes us behind the scenes with family members and government officials to get their accounts. As word spread of Ali’s death, all eyes were on Louisville. In fact, people came to the Muhammad Ali Center downtown to pay their respects. At which point, the Center also decided to open its doors for free.

Outside of the memorial service and procession to Cave Hill Cemetery, there’s no shortage of interviews with family, friends, and yes, even those in the media. Craig Melvin talks about how he wanted to go to Louisville to have a front row seat to history. Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, Dick Cavett, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Evander Holyfield, Hannah Storm, and Bill Plaschke are among those interviewed.

This film may have also started out with its origins in the Louisville Metro Government. However, I think it works by bringing in the outside voices. They certainly don’t go wrong with some of the national voices either. Plaschke is a Ballard graduate and Hannah Storm briefly lived in Louisville. But beyond this, they also find a way to tie in the events of 2016 to that of last summer’s protests for racial justice. Tyler Gerth photographed some of the photos that are in the film and the credits acknowledge that he lost his life in a tragic killing last summer.

There have been no shortage of documentaries since Muhammad Ali passed away five years ago. HBO Max is currently home to both Ali vs. Cavett: The Tale of the Tapes, What’s My Name: Muhammad Ali, and Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight.

City of Ali could be longer but the documentary is a solid addition to the Muhammad Ali film canon–one that comes with a Louisville-based lens.

DIRECTOR: Graham Shelby
FEATURING: Asaad Ali, Lonnie Ali, Rahaman Ali, Rasheda Ali, Mayor Greg Fischer

Abramorama released City of Ali on June 4, 2021.

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.