Tribeca 2019 – Review: WHAT’S MY NAME | MUHAMMAD ALI And His Iconic Legacy

What’s My Name | Muhammad Ali is not just a documentary on one of the greatest boxers of all time. Antoine Fuqua has painted a full portrait of a true legend in every sense of the word. From the boxing ring to the world of political activism, Muhammad Ali embraced his platform completely. He was aware of the power his voice held, and he would be damned if anything, or anyone, tried to silence him.

What becomes apparent almost immediately is Ali’s larger than life personality. Full of charisma and a charm that’s simply irresistible, he was an entertainer at heart. Yet it never feels promotional for the sole purpose of marketing oneself. Rather, it’s clear that Ali wholly believed every word out of his mouth, and honesty such as his should be praised. And a great aspect of this documentary is how it truly feels like Ali himself is taking audiences through his life.

Muhammad Ali Vs. Sonny Liston.

Through his discussions on racial and religious discriminations, Ali was always passionate about social activism. Whether it be calling out television hosts on their own programs, or speaking with Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., he took it upon himself to stand up against injustice. And while many had problems with his political and religious stances, many more began looking up to him as an icon. Ali stated, “He who is not courageous will accomplish nothing in life.” So rather than go with the status quo, he questioned it and fought it, even if it meant losing everything.

In 1966, Ali refused to fight in the Vietnam War after being drafted due to religious opposition. From 1967 to 1970, Ali was stripped of his license to fight as a professional boxer. It was here that Ali’s political stances became extremely evident. He went on a national college tour to discuss the Vietnam War and racial injustices being faced. The documentary shows countless interviews and certain speeches from this time, and it only gives his status as an icon that much more credibility.

In all his interviews, Ali was charismatic, loud-mouthed, and always had a witty response. When he first went to Miami as a teenager, the locals even began calling him “Boca Grande,” or “Big Mouth.” However after these speeches, it shows Ali truly had a penchant for public speaking. He was a political activist as much as he was a boxer, which proves one of the biggest takeaways from this documentary. What’s My Name | Muhammad Ali is not simply the tale of a great boxer, but that of a great man.

Rights of Publicity and Persona Rights: Muhammad Ali Enterprises LLC Photo by Ken Regan © 2019 Muhammad Ali Enterprises LLC

As his fighting career wound down, Ali seemingly never lost his touch. Constantly saying he was done fighting, he would always return for another few fights to secure his championship belt. It’s utterly inspiring to see Ali never give up his dream despite all the media attacks. When asked why he kept returning, Ali simply claimed, “I want to conquer immortality.” Yet it didn’t seem he desired this for the fame, but simply to motivate those who felt their time had passed. For time and time again, Ali proved his naysayers wrong.

Even long after his official retirement, Ali stood as a beacon of hope. After being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, he did not want pity. He was shown to be confident in himself and lived a full life. There is a moment at the Olympics towards the end of the film that brought Fuqua to tears. It’s a moment that will motivate anybody who feels time has passed them by. Above all, Ali and this documentary are deeply moving. For those who love boxing, it highlights some of the greatest moments in the history of the sport. And for those who are not too familiar, it may spur a massive interest in the sport. “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth” remains one of Ali’s most enlightened quotes. Fuqua’s documentary proves Ali paid his rent ten times over, and hopefully, it encourages its viewers to begin paying their rent forward as well.

What’s My Name | Muhammad Ali is celebrating its world premiere at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival and will premiere on HBO on May 14, 2019.

By Alex Papaioannou

Born and raised in New York. I've always loved all things pop culture, but my true passion lies within film. And the only thing that I love more than watching movies is writing about them! Some close runner-ups are: food, the Yankees, and hip-hop.

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