Muhammad Ali, will forever be more than a boxer. Reared in Louisville, KY, the South birthed a globally embraced icon. Sharing his altruistic nature, his resounding faith, his relentless wit, and his formidable athletic prowess, I Am Ali, poignantly illuminates what endeared, The People’s Champion, to the world; his humanity.
English documentarian, Clare Lewins, uses a fluent cache of artistry to write and direct the film.
AllHipHop.com: What was the most difficult and most rewarding part of bringing the film to fruition?
Clare Lewins: The hardest part—well I didn’t think it would be hard—but people around me kept saying, ‘Well, how are you going to make this film different?’ There are so many films about Muhammad Ali. But, that wasn’t a worry for me, because do things in my own way. So, I was thinking I’ll just rule the editor. If I have to channel the story through my head it will be different.
The hardest thing, really, was getting it financed. Licensing the music, and the archives, and the boxing tapes was something that I hadn’t realized. The rewarding thing for me, would have to be meeting the family and all the contributors. The support that I’ve had from them has been amazing.
AllHipHop.com: As a creative soul, how did you balance respecting the intimate access and confidence that you earned from the Ali family, with your inherent poetic license?
Clare Lewins: Hana Ali said that, ‘She wouldn’t of given the tapes to anyone but me.’ It wasn’t immediate, you know, I met her. She saw something in my trailer—not the trailer that’s out now—but my original trailer, that I made myself. It had a level of emotion in it that she hadn’t seen about films about her father. Also, it looked very beautiful. She talked to me about that.
It took a while for her to let me use some of these tapes. She was writing her own book and she wanted to pitch the tapes according to that. Also, because she’s so incredibly protective of her father, and rightly so; these are her legacies. In a way, she wanted to ensure that she was giving them over to the right person. Luckily for me, she felt that she had.
From that moment on, because I’m in England, I was left to my own thing. I had to tell the stories that I thought would work. At the same time, I really wanted the family to like it; but, I had to be true to the story. I couldn’t make it whiter-than-white. He’s a man, like anyone else he has his thorns. Even they say that themselves. When I showed it at the family screening, about three months ago, it was the most terrifying night of my life. I thought, ‘Oh my God, what if they don’t like it? I’ve taken their beloved father and put him up on the screen.’ Luckily, they absolutely loved it.
AllHipHop.com: How if at all, has your perspective of, Muhammad Ali evolved as you created this documentary about his life?
Clare Lewins: I didn’t know much about boxing. I’m a small white, Englishwoman; the film was always about him being more than just a boxer. So, I went into it, already knowing about some things—what struck me along the way was how incredibly brave he was. I was looking at some archives, the interview it was about the time that he was in Miami, [He was asked] Why are you throwing way your career? It’s in the film when he said that.
And he was saying, ‘This means nothing to me. Money means nothing to me. I could have a yacht, but that would mean nothing if someone in my community is raped, or attacked and I don’t say anything. The interview’s longer than that, the archive. I was constantly made aware of how brave he was.
I was listening to the tapes, that I was privy to…, I was struck by how much warmth there was in his voice. Over time, my ear became accustomed to his voice. I could tell when he was tired or he was funny; he was loving. It was a real privilege to listen to that. While making the film I thought, he’s just a man full of love.
AllHipHop.com: Did you discover anything that challenged your ingrained respect for him?
Clare Lewins: Not really, just by talking to Hana and Mae Mae—Hana said, ‘My daddy was married to her mom when he started seeing my mom.’ They’re sitting there together, on the stools, with my in between them, happy and friendly. ‘Daddy owned up to his mistakes.’
So, if it was something that I didn’t agree with I would have put it in the film. I’m not one of those people who just wants to please everybody. There was nothing that I heard or saw that made me like him any less.
AllHipHop.com: How does, I Am Ali, best demonstrate celebrated and uncomfortable truths about the man behind the legend?
Clare Lewins: More than anything I wanted to be true to Muhammad Ali’s story. That’s why I actually went out to seek, Marvis Frazier; because, of the back-story of Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali. I wanted to explore that, because in a way, I wanted to resolve that. I wanted to see what that situation was.
As it happens, most people that met, Ali, were blown away by him. Even though he may have been a womanizer, he may have done this—even his own wife said, ‘Yes, he was unfaithful, but I still love him.’
AllHipHop.com: At first, I wanted more depth. Then I came to appreciate the pacing of the film. Since Mr. Ali, has so much life and accomplishments, how were you able not to dwell on one thing for too long?
Clare Lewins: It was hard. You could have a whole story from the moment that he was born, to how he is now, to his humanitarian work. I had to a line-in-the-sand with the narrative. What I decided was, that bit of audio where he says, ‘Now picture if I could go back to get the championship back again.’ And Mae Mae says, ‘No, don’t do that, daddy, you’re too old.’ And he says, ‘No, no, no. I’m not going to go back.’ Then there was the last fight. So, that’s 1981 that last fight.
So, that was my narrative. It was about how he got to that last fight was the story. In terms of the pacing, he’s such an energetic man, he keeps moving the story along already. The film was originally longer. My producer wanted it to be 90 minutes, but I couldn’t get it down to 90 minutes. He’s got so many different aspects to his character. It was hard to get it down.
AllHipHop.com: You will definitely help to educatethe masses about this great man. We wish you continued blessings.
Clare Lewins: That’s very kind of you. Thank you so much. I really appreciate that you like the film.