Community Cinema

The Trials of Muhammad Ali


7 pm Tuesday, March 4
Spurlock Museum
600 S. Gregory St., Urbana
Parking: Lot D-22 next to the museum

Come to our free screening and discussion of issues raised by this documentary focusing on Muhammad Ali’s toughest bout, his battle to overturn his five-year prison sentence for refusing U.S. military service during the Vietnam War.

The Trials of Muhammad Ali explores the extraordinary and complex life of the legendary athlete outside the boxing ring. Outspoken and passionate in his beliefs, Ali found himself in the crosshairs of conflicts concerning race, religion and wartime dissent. Directed by Bill Siegel, The Trials of Muhammad Ali examines how one of the most celebrated sports champions of the 20th century risked fame and fortune to follow his faith and conscience.

On the discussion panel are Steve Beckett, director of the U of I College of Law Trial Advocacy Program; Adrian Burgos, U of I professor of History and of African American Studies; Lou Turner, academic advisor and curriculum coordinator,  U of I Department of African American Studies; Jonathan Ebel, U of I associate professor of Religion; and Rory James, director of the U of I Bruce D. Nesbitt African American Cultural Center.

Convicted of draft evasion, Ali was sentenced to five years in prison and his passport was revoked. Stripped of his title and banned from boxing, Ali faced an American public enraged by his opposition to the Vietnam War and unwilling to accept his conversion to Islam. Although vilified in many corners at home, he became an international symbol of opposition to an unjust war. Filing round after round of legal appeals all the way to the Supreme Court, he supported his family through a speaking tour across 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.

Archival scenes highlight the forces that supported and opposed him, including his spiritual mentors, Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad, and critics of his stance, such as Jackie Robinson and Joe Louis. Most of the interviewees have never been featured in any Ali film before, yet are central to his life story and his global impact. Interviews shot exclusively for the film include his brother, Rahman; his former wife, 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.

The Trials of Muhammad Ali premieres on the PBS series Independent Lens at 9 p.m. Monday, April 14, on WILL-TV.

Watch a preview: