Antoine Fuqua’s film makes no attempt to probe his private life, concentrating instead on his fights and his public persona
As Anthony Joshua’s shock defeat by the unfancied Andy Ruiz Jr suggests, heavyweight boxers ain’t what they used to be. Antoine Fuqua’s sprawling documentary, What’s My Name: Muhammad Ali, bangs the point home with its vivid examination of the sport’s all-time greatest exponent, a fighter whose influence stretched far beyond sport into politics, religious faith and racial identity.
The boxer formerly known as Cassius Clay was born in Louisville, Kentucky in 1942. He changed his name after he’d defeated world champion Sonny Liston in 1964 and converted to Islam and became a sensation not just for his boxing, but for his gift for self-mythologising rap-style poetry.
Fuqua’s film was made in co-operation with the Ali estate and makes no attempt to probe his private life, concentrating instead on his fights and his public persona. It was compiled from 1,000 hours of video and audio material, and uses clips from Ali’s interviews to construct the narrative rather than an outside narrator. Fuqua has an obvious affinity for the sport, skilfully blending fight footage with music or Ali’s poetry.
Milestone moments like Ali’s refusal to be drafted to the Vietnam War on religious grounds – which cost him four years of his career, but helped to make him a beacon of the Civil Rights movement – are a testament to his towering stature.