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Smithsonian Channel greenlights Cassius X: Becoming Ali


- The two-part documentary, produced by Scotland’s Two Rivers Media and helmed by Muta’Ali, will portray the transformation of Cassius Clay into international boxing icon and activist Muhammad Ali

Smithsonian Channel greenlights Cassius X: Becoming Ali
Cassius X: Becoming Ali by Muta’Ali

Yesterday, Smithsonian Channel announced the commissioning of a new 2 x 60-minute documentary titled Cassius X: Becoming Ali. Based on former Channel 4 executive Stuart Cosgrove’s book Cassius X: The Transformation of Muhammad Ali, the documentary will include invaluable testimonies from Malcolm X’s eldest daughter, Attallah Shabazz, R&B singer and Ali’s girlfriend in the 1960s Dee Dee Sharp, boxing broadcasting legend and Ali’s friend Jim Lampley, biographer Thomas Hauser as well as veteran sports writers such as Robert Lipsyte and Jerry Izenberg.

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NAACP Image Award-nominated director Muta’Ali is attached to direct the project. The helmer’s most recent effort is HBO’s TV documentary Yusuf Hawkins: Storm Over Brooklyn, released on the 30th anniversary of the murder of the black Brooklyn teenager.

In detail, the documentary will cover the often-overlooked period when Cassius Clay fought his way to achieving his lifelong dream of becoming World Heavyweight Champion while, at the same time, embarking on a secret spiritual journey. It will explore the painful birth of an icon when, in the days ahead of the biggest fight of his life, Clay would risk everything – his career, his public persona, his relationship with his family, and even the love of a pop-star girlfriend – for his new religion.

Speaking about his new project, Muta’Ali said: “It’s both an honour and a privilege to direct a documentary about Muhammad Ali. I have intimate knowledge of what it’s like being a black Muslim in America, and this portion of Ali’s life – filled with triumph, challenges, love and courage – is nothing short of inspiring. Cassius X: Becoming Ali is my interpretation of Ali’s spiritual and intellectual transformation, rooted in the conversations I’ve had on camera with people who knew him at the time. Though Ali didn’t share this part of his life with many people, I believe understanding Ali requires this inside look at his spiritual and ideological journey through racism, xenophobia and early-1960s America.”

Cassius X: Becoming Ali is slated to air in the USA and the UK in 2022. It is a Two Rivers Media presentation, with backing from Smithsonian Channel as well as The National Lottery and the Scottish Government through Screen Scotland.

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