If you saw the excellent One Night in Miami earlier this year, you’re aware that Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali were close friends. And if you’re like me, you wanted to know more about that friendship. That one night was just a small part of their story. This new documentary airing on Netflix tells what happened before and after. It’s a fascinating and sad story of three years in the lives of two charismatic giants of the 20th century.
Adapted from the book, “Blood Brothers: The Fatal Friendship Between Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X”, the film charts the rise of each man separately. Cassius Clay (later Ali) returned from winning a gold medal at the 1960 Olympics to find that he was still a second class citizen in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. He was already attracted to the Nation of Islam for its militant corrective to the pervasive white supremacy he’d experienced. And he met Malcolm in 1962. The two became fast friends, with Malcolm who was 20 years his senior also acting as his mentor. At the time Malcolm had risen through the ranks of the Nation of Islam and was Elijah Muhammad’s second in command. And Ali became a vocal supporter and member. But when Malcolm broke with Elijah Muhammad over differences about the way the organization was moving, Ali turned against him and did not speak with him for the rest of his short life. Malcolm X was assassinated in 1965.
The film is filled with great archival footage of both men to illustrate the story. And the interviews with people who knew them before, during, and after their deep friendship give it the insider view that is at times heart breaking. Ali’s brother Rahman Ali and his daughter Maryum Ali were there when the two men were close and witnessed the aftermath and the regret that Ali ultimately felt. In addition, a handful of scholars weigh in on the significance of both men and their outspoken political stances that diverged from the Civil Rights movement, and placed them both in danger.
Blood Brothers is an exceedingly well done documentary that places these two icons in perspective by telling the story of a tragic relationship. There are some (to me) shocking moments when the Nation of Islam’s views of the white world are expressed. And truth be told, they probably haven’t changed over time. (See Louis Farrakhan) But it’s more disturbing because it’s Muhammad Ali, the “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” media star. You’ll definitely see him in a different light. It’s a thought provoking film and I highly recommend it.
Streaming on Netflix beginning Sept. 9th.