PBS Announces Four-Part Muhammad Ali Documentary Set for September

Illustration for article titled PBS Announces Four-Part Muhammad Ali Documentary Set for September
Photo: Kent Gavin/Keystone (Getty Images)

For those of us who can’t get enough sports docs—personally, I would inject them directly into my veins if I could—another blessing is upon us.


PBS has announced that Muhammad Ali, its latest collaborative effort with Emmy award-winning filmmaker Ken Burns, is set to premiere in September. This is the latest collaboration between Burns and the educational television provider, whose previous efforts include The Central Park Five (2012), Jackie Robinson (2016), East Lake Meadows: A Public Housing Story (2020), and others.

From a press release provided to The Root:

The film follows the life of one of the most consequential men of the 20th century, a three-time heavyweight boxing champion who captivated billions of fans with his combination of speed, agility and power in the ring, and his charm, wit and outspokenness outside of it. At the height of his fame, Ali challenged Americans’ racial prejudices, religious biases, and notions about what roles celebrities and athletes play in our society, and inspired people all over the world with his message of pride and self-affirmation.

The film is constructed from a treasure trove of archival footage, photographs, contemporary music, and the insights and memories of family and friends, critically acclaimed journalists, historians, and Ali’s peers. It will provide intimate details of the life and legacy of “The Greatest of All Time” and chronicle his resistance to the Vietnam War, his unwavering commitment to his Muslim faith, his complex relationships with Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X, as well as his memorable rivalries and bouts with boxers like Joe Frazer, Sonny Liston, George Foreman, and others.

“Muhammad Ali was the very best at what he did,” Burns said in a statement provided to The Root. “He was arguably America’s greatest athlete, and his unflinching insistence that he be unabashedly himself at all times made him a beacon for generations of people around the world seeking to express their own humanity.”

In conjunction with the release of the film, Burns will join PBS and The Undefeated in a series of insightful conversations exploring the intersections of race and sports in America. Each of these events will preview clips from the film and feature scholars, experts, and familiar names in both sports and entertainment as they examine Ali’s life and career.

“Muhammad Ali remains one of the most iconic figures in American history. He has been studied and modeled and quoted extensively, and his life’s story is central to understanding the modern Black athlete and this period of activism and social change that The Undefeated has been privileged to chronicle,” Raina Kelley, The Undefeated’s newly appointed Vice President and Editor-in-Chief, said in a statement provided to The Root. “We are proud to collaborate with PBS and Ken Burns to host this exciting conversation series on the meaning of Ali and his lasting legacy.”


Muhammad Ali is scheduled to air on September 19-22, from 8:00-10:00 p.m. ET on PBS. For more info on this four-part documentary, hit up PBS’ website.

Menace to supremacy. Founder of Extraordinary Ideas and co-host and producer of The Extraordinary Negroes podcast. Impatiently waiting for y'all to stop putting sugar in grits.


Woke Up Dead

Boxing has the best stories and Ali’s is definitely very interesting, but I wish more attention was given to other interesting boxers. I don’t think even casual boxing fans have much left to learn about Ali: Olympic gold medal, conversion and name change, dominance, away from the sport as a conscientious objector, improbable comeback and win via rope-a-dope, slow decline, parkinsons, etc.

Joe Louis, Sugar Ray Robinson, Archie Moore had such long and interesting careers. Marvin Haggler just passed away, he had interesting stories too, so does Roberto Duran in a very long career. Jake LaMotta’s story was partially told in “The Raging Bull” but so much more could be told in a longer documentary. Stanley Ketchel was a middleweight who lost a fight to his friend Jack Johnson the heavyweight champion, then was murdered in a robbery by associates. Even Ali’s opponents have very interesting stories, like George Foreman and the way he transformed his style and personality over decades.