Antoine Fuqua’s two-part HBO documentary “What’s my Name?” follows boxing legend Muhammad Ali from 1960, the year he won Olympic gold under his birth name Cassius Clay, all the way to the twilight of his life, which ended in 2016. The film not only showcases Ali's boxing accomplishments but also how he addressed the issues of racism and injustice in a charismatic way. For example, when someone once told him at a diner, “we don't serve negroes here sir,” Ali replied “Well, I don't eat 'em, now get me a cup of coffee and a hamburger.”
Ali’s ability to charm and speak his mind quickly made him a superstar and not just in the boxing ring. The film showcases Ali’s interactions and time spent with several historical figures including Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., and Eljiah Muhammad. The change in his media portrayal shifted after these interactions due to his pacifism and opposition to the Vietnam War based on his religious and political principles. The media publicly vilified him, a perception that was strengthened when African-American titans Jackie Robinson and Joe Louis, who both served in the United States military, said that what Ali was doing wasn't right. Ali responded that the war wasn't right and amounted to white men forcing their way on colored people across the world. Ali vowed he would not kill and die for that cause.
Later in life, Ali however was willing to intervene in negotiations with Saddam Hussein in order to free American captives. Ali said this was done to prevent all people of color from being caught in the crossfire of a possible Soviet-American war.
Inside the ring, Muhammad Ali was definitely not a pacifist. He often taunted opponents and sought to show how much better he was than everyone else. No fight highlights this more than the legendary “Rumble in the Jungle” fight against a much younger and favored George Foreman in his prime. The fight was in Zaire, Africa and Ali was the people's champion even though Foreman entered the fight as the boxing champion. The people in Zaire viewed Ali as one of their own who stood for what's just and Foreman was viewed as a foreign enemy even though they were both African-American. This portrayal clearly got to Foreman and although he was undefeated and younger, was stopped in round eight after exhausting himself trying to finish off Ali. This was Ali’s crowning testament to his greatness, coming back and dominating the younger chalk who previously tossed Joe Fraizer around like a ragdoll.
The Rumble in the Jungle should have been Ali’s walk into the sunset. Unfortunately he kept fighting and in 1980, after talking up how he was going dismantle Larry Holmes, the new champion who sparred and trained with Ali. In the ring Ali looked like a ghost of his former self and absorbed punishment that was linked to his development of Parkisons. Ali was stopped in the tenth round and looked visibly disheartened and seemed to accept that this was the end. Still yearning to leave on top, a year later he lost a decision to Trevor Berbick.
Ali cleary was not the same man from years past after this. His hands notably were shaking in interviews with Arsenio Hall and in a 60 Minutes piece. The latter was a tragedy because this man who once was able to enamor a country with his hands and speech, had those very gifts taken from him slowly. Taking a pause from the 60 Minutes interview, he said “he didn't want people to look at Ali and say look at him he fought too long.” Ali still showed he had some lights still on when he toyed with a reporter by faking narcolepsy and fake sleep punching him. The film then showcases Ali’s twilight years through his many charitable endeavors around the globe rather than his slow decline into senility. The documentary was meant to show Ali’s boxing prime and social impact rather than the aftermath of his boxing career and what that did to his mind as most young people today remember him.
Produced by Lebron James, this documentary is clearly a love letter to the legend and was made to inspire others through the valiant actions of one of the most influential Americans to ever live.