The Trials of Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali's exile years when he was banned from boxing found him in the crosshairs of conflicts concerning race, religion, and wartime dissent.

Trials of muhammad ali 01
Independent Lens
Premiere Date
April 14, 2014
90 minutes
Funding Initiative
Open Call
Series and Special Projects
  • Award laurels-r Created with Sketch.
    2013 International Documentary Association (IDA)-ABC News Videosource Award
  • Award laurels-r Created with Sketch.
    2014 FOCAL International Awards-Best Use of Sports Footage
  • Nominated laurels-r Created with Sketch.
    2014 News and Documentary Emmy Awards-Best Documentary
  • Award laurels-r Created with Sketch.
    2014 News and Documentary Emmy Awards-Outstanding Historical Programming
  • Nominated laurels-r Created with Sketch.
    2014 News and Documentary Emmy Awards-Outstanding Editing: Documentary and Long Form
  • Siegel bill filmmaker bio

    Bill Siegel

    Bill Siegel has more than 20 years of experience in documentary filmmaking and education. He co-directed the Academy Award-nominated documentary The Weather Underground; was a researcher on the documentary films Muhammad Ali: The Whole Story and Hoop Dreams; and a writer on One Love, a documentary on the cultural history of basketball by Leon Gast (When We Were Kings). Siegel is vice president of school programs for the Great Books Foundation, a non-profit educational organization dedicated to literacy and lifelong learning.

    Other ITVS Films
    The Weather Underground
    Executive Producer

    Leon Gast

    Leon Gast directed the Academy Award-winning documentary When We Were Kings about the Muhammad Ali—George Foreman "Rumble in the Jungle" heavyweight title bout in Zaire. He has directed numerous other documentary films, including Our Latin Thing (1972) and Salsa (1977), both of which anticipated the huge influence Latin American music now has on American culture. His latest documentary about photographer Ron Galella, Smash His Camera, premiered at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival.

    Executive Producer

    Justine Nagan

    Justine Nagan is Kartemquin Films’s executive director and is currently executive producing several films with the company. Also with Kartemquin, she recently directed Typeface, and was associate producer on the Peabody Award-winning Terra Incognita. Prior, she helped the organization develop an education series while earning her Humanities Master's Degree from the University of Chicago. Other experience includes teaching at the Hyde Park Art Center, and working as a theatre manager for the Chicago International Film Festival and as a fellow for The HistoryMakers. Before moving to Chicago, she produced promotional spots for Public Television and worked for various companies ranging from M&C Saatchi, Australia to Michael Feldman’s Whad’Ya Know? on National Public Radio. She holds an undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

    Quinn gordon filmmaker bio
    Executive Producer

    Gordon Quinn

    Artistic Director and founding member of Kartemquin Films, 2007 recipient of the MacArthur award for Creative and Effective Institutions, Gordon Quinn has been making documentaries for more than 40 years. His producing credits include such award-winning and highly acclaimed films as Hoop Dreams; Vietnam, Long Time Coming; Golub; 5 Girls; Refrigerator Mothers; Stevie, for which he won the Cinematography Award at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival; and The New Americans (for which h also directed the Palestinian segment). Most recently, Quinn executive produced Mapping Stem Cell Research: Terra Incognita; At The Death House Door; Milking the Rhino; In the Family; and Typeface, as well as directing a film on delayed posttraumatic stress syndrome, Prisoner of Her Past.


    Rachel Pikelny

    Rachel is a producer affiliated with Kartemquin Films. She is associate producing A Good Man, airing on PBS's American Masters, as well as co-producing the documentary Mormons Make Movies. She also co-produced Kartemquin’s film American Arab. With documentary production house The Kindling Group, Rachel acted as production coordinator for “Whatʼs Your Calling?,” the companion web engagement campaign for The Calling, a four-hour documentary miniseries broadcast on PBSʼs Independent Lens in December 2010. Rachel spent several years at Kurtis Productions, creating episodes of Cold Case Files for A&E and American Greed for CNBC. She also produces promotional content for Fortune 500 companies such as Pepsi and LKQ Corporation, and serves on committees for the News & Documentary Emmy Awards, the Chicago Short Film Brigade, and the Hugo Television Awards.

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    The Film

    The Trials of Muhammad Ali is a feature-length documentary film covering Ali’s toughest bout, his battle to overturn the five-year prison sentence he received for refusing U.S. military service. Trials is not a boxing film. It is a fight film tracing a formative period in Ali’s life, one that is remarkably unknown to young people today and tragically neglected by those who remember him as a boxer, but overlook how controversial he was when he first took center stage.

    Prior to becoming the most recognizable face on earth, Cassius Clay became Muhammad Ali and found himself in the crosshairs of conflicts concerning civil rights, religion, and wartime dissent. The fury he faced from an American public enraged by his opposition to the Vietnam War and unwilling to accept his conversion to Islam, has global implications for generations now coming of age amidst contemporary fissures involving freedom, faith and military conflict.

    Today, people are more likely to be introduced to Ali via footage of him lighting the Olympic torch in 1996, or being given the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005. This film zeroes in on the years 1967 to 1970, when Ali lived in exile within the U.S., stripped of his heavyweight belt and banned from boxing, sacrificing fame and fortune on principle. As we follow Ali’s struggle for justice through its final round in the Supreme Court, the film explores his political, spiritual, and cultural dimensions from his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky to the far corners of the earth, enabling audiences to consider the full resonance of Ali for all time.