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To this day, Muhammad Ali is an international icon, the subject of books, feature films (including one he starred in as himself) and documentaries. The latest “The Trials of Muhammad Ali,” deals specifically with the time he spent fighting his conviction on draft evasion in 1967. During that time, he was stripped of his boxing license and unable to fight.
Instead, he made his living as a speaker, supporting his growing family with then wife Khalilah Comacho-Ali by traveling and talking openly about his resistance to the Vietnam War, racism and his conversion to the Nation of Islam. He fought his draft evasion case all the way to the Supreme Court, ultimately winning, but not without collateral damage to his career and his reputation.
“When I heard [director Bill Siegel] was doing it, I was very honored because he contacted me,” Camacho-Ali says. “I was there. Other times when they do a lot of things on Ali [when] I was there, I knew exactly what was happening, nobody asks me anything. Even when they did the “Ali’ movie, nobody asked me. I felt like Moses, like I was written out of the tablets or something.”
In “The Trials of Muhammad Ali,” people like Camacho-Ali and Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan are interviewed, people who haven’t shown up in other documentaries. Tom Joyner, a lifelong fan of Ali’s who hung around the Champ’s camp as a teenager and has watched all the Ali docs, says that even he learned something from this latest project on Ali’s extraordinary life.
This new doc may not be the last look at Ali. Camacho-Ali, known as Belinda Ali when she was married, had four children with the champ before divorcing him after the “Thrilla In Manila.” Ali brought Veronica Porsche, who would become his third wife (and Laila Ali’s mother) along to the Philippines, publicly humiliating Comacho-Ali , who was memorably played in the movie “Ali” by Nona Gaye.
“When your family is being broken up by these particular women, it’s not something you’re going to be Shangri-La about,” Comacho-Ali says. “But once I divorced Ali, I let him go to do what he wanted. Chapter 29, in my book that will be coming out soon, I’m telling all the dirt. It’s gonna be juicy!”
But Khalilah bears the former heavyweight champion of the world no ill will. She helped “The Trials of Muhammed Ali” director connect to people that were part of Ali’s life when they were married and was happy to be involved.
“I had a wonderful life being with Muhammad Ali,” says Khalilah. “Enjoyable events, up and down, it’s been exciting, it’s been dramatic. I feel honored to be a part of ‘The Trials of Muhammad Ali.’ I was there. He went through a lot of pain and a lot emotion and I was there to support that.”