I’m participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge by watching and reviewing some of my favorite movies of all time that I haven’t watched in a long time. This post contains SPOILERS!
Title: When We Were Kings
Release Date: October 25, 1996
Director: Leon Gast
Production Company: PolyGram Filmed Entertainment
On October 30, 1974, Muhammad Ali and George Foreman met in a heavyweight title bout in Kinshasa, Zaire, an event nicknamed “The Rumble in the Jungle.” Ali, an Olympic gold medalist and heavyweight champion in the 1960s, lost three prime years of his career after he refused to be conscripted to fight in the Vietnam War. Meanwhile, Foreman, also an Olympic gold medalist, was younger with a strong punch and a history of overpowering wins over the top boxers of the era.
Holding the fight in Zaire was a historic choice as the event became a coming-out party for post colonial Africa. In addition to the boxing match, which was viewed on tv by a record 1 billion people worldwide, there was a concert featuring top African musicians alongside African American stars like James Brown and B.B. King. The fight itself is delayed after Foreman injures his eye in training, allowing everyone to spend more time in Zaire.
The documentary captures a fascinating intersection of sport, culture, civil rights, and politics. There is a great amount of archival footage from the time, including Ali in awe of flying on an airplane with a an all-Black crew for the first time. In addition to the historic film and photographs, the film includes interviews with Norman Mailer, George Plimpton, Spike Lee, Malik Bowens and Thomas Hauser who also provide narration for important events.
When Did I First See This Movie?:
I was flying home from Great Britain in 1998 and watched this movie on the seatback television on Virgin Atlantic. I was so engrossed that the flight attendant chastised me to turn the screen off since the plane was approaching landing. I later rewatched it on video so I could find out what happened at the end.
What Did I Remember?:
I think I remembered it pretty well.
What Did I Forget?:
It was less about forgetting things and more that in the intervening years I’ve learned more about Ali, and some of the musical artists and interviewees in the movie so things seemed more significant.
What Makes This Movie Great?:
You don’t have to care about boxing to like this movie. This documentary captures the feel and excitement of a major event in the history of Africa and really the first big media event that focused on African people and African descendants as the key figures.
What Doesn’t Hold Up?:
The lack of interviews with Ali and Foreman at the time this movie was made is a big loss. Also, most of the people they did interview were old white men which is kind of jarring with the African diaspora theme. The movie leans in favor of Ali, which is a bit of a shame since Foreman is a very interesting figure, one who would reinvent his public persona by the time this movie was released in the 1990s. Throughout the movie, Ali leads Zaireans in the chant of “Ali Bomaye” which means “Ali, kill him.” One of my favorite parts of the movie is a clip where Foreman says he’d not want people to chant “Foreman Bomaye” but instead “Foreman loves Africa.”
Is It a Classic?:
Yes. This is an all-time great documentary and sports film.
Five more all-time favorite movies starting with W:
- When Harry Met Sally…
- Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory
- Winged Migration
- The Wizard of Oz
- Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
What is your favorite movie starting with W? What is your guess for my X movie (Hint: my “X” movie will actually start with a number and involves a submarine)? Let me know in the comments!