PBS announced this morning that the late Muhammad Ali is getting the Ken Burns documentary treatment, which is typically a very good thing! Burns is a master documentarian and his extensive resume (including documentaries on the Central Park Five, Jackie Robinson, Jack Johnson and others, all covered on this blog) more than speaks for itself. So Ali's life story should be in good hands here.
The PBS documentary will be a two-part, four-hour film about the former heavyweight champ, who died last June. Burns, his daughter Sarah Burns, along with David McMahon, are collaborating on the film (they've worked together a number of times previously), which has a tentative 2021 release date; so a lot of time to ensure that they produce a comprehensive, illuminating work, as Burns typically does..
" arrived at exactly the right moment, amidst the tumult and upheaval of the 1960s, and he shaped his times with his powerful voice, mesmerizing presence, and achievements in the ring,” said ken Burns. “But beyond the astonishing athletic gifts and mountain of charisma, there’s a very complex, dynamic man whose life story has yet to receive the comprehensive treatment it deserves.”
Daughter Sarah Burns added, “Muhammad Ali’s passing last year gave us reason to celebrate his boxing feats as well as his contributions as an ambassador for human rights, and as a voice and symbol of pacifism. But it’s easy to forget how divisive a figure he was, proudly associating with the Nation of Islam, refusing induction into the Army before the Vietnam War had become deeply unpopular. We’re eager to get beyond the archetypes and examine who and what influenced his choices, and how he maintained the courage of his convictions when those choices seemed to go against the tide."
It's worth noting that there've been numerous Muhammad Ali documentaries (and a few scripted features) produced over the last decade, examining the late icon's life, or specific years within it. Most recently, just last month, the Showtime network announced a new limited series in development titled "The Ali Summit," which will focus on the Ali's refusal to enter the military over objections to the Vietnam War.
Production on Burns comprehensive Ali documentary is already underway.