The Netflix documentary could be one of the most in-depth pieces on the friendship and eventual fallout between two of the most recognisable names from the Civil Rights Movement from the ’60s
The documentary focuses on Muhammad Ali before he had his name changed from Cassius Clay. It focuses on his journey to joining Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam, his budding friendship with Malcolm X, and their eventual breakdown in the relationship.
The story of Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali has been well documented over the years through several documentaries and dramas. But this documentary offers incredible access to archival footage and interviews with relatives and all those closest to the two very complex individuals — individuals who would go on to shape the identity of the black community in the US and the symbol for the fight against racial discrimination and inequality across the globe.
The most peripheral figure in this documentary is neither Ali nor Malcolm, but Elijah Muhammad. The influence the leader of the Nation of Islam had on Ali and Malcolm cannot be understated. Elijah Muhammad was instrumental in the rise of Malcolm X, who was considered as the spiritual successor of the popular civil fugues advocate Marcus Garvey. The documentary subtly hints that Elijah Muhammad may have been a glorified cult leader who saw the charismatic Malcolm and Ali as means to sustain his power and influence over the masses.
The famous meeting between iconic African-American figures such as Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, and Jim Brown in Miami after Ali beats Sonny Liston for the World Heavyweight title, is yet another pivotal moment in their lives that the documentary delves into. While it does not go into detail like the critically acclaimed feature film One Night in Miami, which offers a fictionalised and dramatised version of what might have transpired that night, it does offer an outline based on the accounts of those closest to them.
The documentary's true strength lies in its ability to stay objective despite having several conflicting accounts of these enigmatic icons. It essentially gives the viewers the choice to make up their minds about these influential figures. The narrative undoubtedly focuses on their impact and how it has influenced the lives of millions across the globe. Director Marcus A. Clarke does a commendable job at fleshing out the aspects of what led to the fallout between Ali and Malcolm.
The blame game and the sense of betrayal shared between the two add to the drama of the narrative. The animosity between the two came to a point where even Malcolm X’s assassination, allegedly by those involved with the Elijah Muhammad, did not appear to deter Ali’s stance on Malcolm, in the immediate aftermath of Malcolm’s death. There are even allegations that Ali’s global image was rebranded in the ’90s to make him more appealing to future generations.
The documentary does function effectively as an informative production offering great insights into the lives of two men as well Elijah Muhammed. The quality is enhanced by the excellent production value including the visuals, the pacing of the narrative, and the soul music used as the background score.
The documentary, at its core, is a stark warning on the pitfalls on how religious fundamentalism could undermine, or damage, even the noblest of causes — as history has proven time and time again.