When We Were Kings (1996)

DailyView: Day 78, Movie 132

One of the most acclaimed documentaries of all time is When We Were Kings, the story of the fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman in Africa that became known as “The Rumble in the Jungle.” I had thought about watching this before, but I was under the impression that it was over three hours and movies that long are tough to commit to. However, I was looking at the Showtime app on Amazon and I came across this movie and it was listed as an hour and a half for runtime. I was both shocked and excited. This made this choice for the DailyView a much easier one.

When We Were King was more than just a look at the Ali-Foreman fight. It encompassed the entire black culture of the time, looking at political questions, music and how Muhammad Ali personified all of these. The focus of the film was more on Ali than Foreman for sure because of how charismatic and engaging the former champion was. Listening to the talking heads come on the screen and build the environment of the match was fascinating.

You can’t go wrong just putting the camera on Ali and letting it go. He was so charismatic, so outgoing that even though people did not believe he stood a chance with the young and powerful current champion George Foreman, a show was going to be put on.

The documentary dives into Don King some as well, in particular the efforts he had in putting the fight together. He was able to convince both Ali and Foreman that he could get them $5 million dollars each to create the fight, despite King not having $10 million dollars. Involvement of Zaire dictator Mobutu Sese Seko not only financed King’s match, but brought it to the continent of Africa. Ali had been outspoken about a lot of the politics of black culture and the American treatment of blacks so holding this fight in Africa played into that narrative heavily.

The film brought James Brown, The Spinners and B.B. King to the front as well, discussing the black music festival that was planned. We heard comments from Howard Cosell, Norman Mailer, Spike Lee, George Plimpton, Odessa Clay, and Thomas Hauser.

The analysis during the footage of the fight was fascinating and gave a real inside knowledge to not only what happened leading up to the fight, but how Ali was able to pull off what was considered one of the great upsets in sports history. It was mentioned that George Foreman went into an extended depression for two years following the knockout, which sounds like an extremely intriguing story as well.

Muhammad Ali is one of the brightest lights of both black and American sports, transcending past just an athlete. This doc does a beautiful job of highlighting that fact.

When We Were Kings Bomaye!

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