Will Smith and the True Story Behind the Muhammad Ali Film

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MILAN – It would not even be necessary to explain who he was, so his name has become a legend. The life of Cassius Clay has been the subject of many cinematographic transpositions, including Ali , directed by Michael Mann and with one of the most successful interpretations of Will Smith. The film does not cover the entire life of the famous boxer, only the ten most turbulent years that saw an open clash with politics and the media. Four years after winning the gold medal at the Rome Olympics in 1960, in a meeting with Sonny Liston, Cassius Clay becomes a heavyweight world champion. At that point, he decides to convert to the Muslim religion, abandon the slave name Clay and instead assume that of Muhammad Ali.

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A scene from Ali

In the midst of the years of racial tension and the war in Vietnam, its history gradually turns into an instrument exploited by the media debate. He had had a close relationship with Malcolm X, the black leader of Black Power assassinated in 1965, thanks to which he had approached the fight to claim black rights. By law then, he must fulfill military service, but the war goes against his religion and his ideals. So he refuses to leave for Vietnam and is arrested, sentenced to five years in prison with a fine of ten thousand dollars and – more importantly – his boxer license is removed. Thus he lost the title of world champion, was excluded from the temple and suspended from Muslim practice, which is why he appealed to the Supreme Court.

Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X

In the meantime, the title had passed to George Foreman, and after some unlicensed fighting in Atlanta, Ali was declared innocent: he could finally go back to chasing the world title. A meeting between Foreman and Ali was organized in 1974 in Kinshasa, Zaire in Africa. Zaire was going through a difficult time between a megalomaniac dictator and the Belgian occupation, and that meeting seemed to be an epochal moment. And so it was. What went down in history as Rumble in the Jungle , the brawl in the jungle, was not only one of the greatest fights ever but also had a highly symbolic value, given that two black men and one competed for the title the nation’s pride made itself felt.

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Muhammad Ali and Will Smith

Tensions were not lacking, above all because Africa had already chosen its champion, and it was Muhammad Ali. Already loved by the people of Zaire, he was considered a hero with a strong sense of belonging to his origins. Foreman was the reigning champion but he was considered an American patriot and the fact that he got off the plane carrying a German shepherd, the dog that the Belgians used in their reprisals against the blacks during the occupation, played some points against him . An epic challenge took place between the two in the Tata Raphael stadium, while the audience all around shouted “Ali bomaye!” ( «Ali kill him»). As is known, Ali won, returning to being the undisputed champion and king. A man who was able to take control and claim his individuality against those who wanted to exploit him instead. Inside and outside the ring.

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