Documentary about friendship Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X keeps Nation of Islam from the wind
In most of the photos, Malcolm X looked serious, but when he took a picture with boxing champion Muhammad Ali, he smiled. The two friends came under a lot of pressure in the grim 1960s for speaking out loud and clear against the oppression of African Americans. But when the sportsman and the thinker were together, they felt safe and at ease, and there was room for humor and sociability.
From Netflix-documentary Blood BrothersBased on the book of the same name by Johnny Smith and Randy Roberts, it revolves around the friendship of the two black heroes. Muhammad Ali (1942-2016) and Malcolm X (1925-1965) knew each other from the American sectarian movement Nation of Islam, of which X was the figurehead. The two found support in each other. X gave Ali moral support and inspiration, Ali helped X in difficult times. When X got into a fight with the Nation’s leadership, Ali invited him to a vacation in Miami where the boxer trained for his world title fight in 1964. That resulted in some beautiful, rare family snapshots – you don’t often see them both as a family man.
But that beautiful friendship ended in betrayal. When X was banned by the Nation, Ali sided with him. Loyalty to the cult leader was more important to Ali than friendship. In fact, after X was murdered in New York in 1965, Ali kept saying that X made it up himself. Later, much later, he called it the biggest mistake of his life.
Nice story for a documentary, the rich archive material is supplemented with interviews with X’s daughter and Ali’s brother. But director Marcus A. Clarke doesn’t have his research in order. Few examples of mistakes: Ali didn’t throw his Olympic medal in the river; it is unlikely that X’s father was murdered; and X was in jail not for robbery, but for theft and burglary. More serious is that the film does not tell who is responsible for X’s murder. As is known, that was a command of the Nation. So Muhammad Ali sided with his friend’s killers.
That would give this film about friendship and betrayal an extra edge. But apparently that didn’t sit well with director Clarke. The story is of course better if you can blame the white oppressors. They certainly did not go unpunished, as can be seen in the much better Netflix documentary Who Killed Malcolm X?