Filmmaker Marcus A. Clarke has finally brought to film a long awaited description of the relationship between arguably the two most iconic Black men in the history of mankind. Based on the book Blood Brothers by Randy Roberts and Johnny Smith, Clarke’s documentary of the same name explores not only the relationship between Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali; it also examines the tumultuous aftermath after their relationship ended.
The archival footage of 1950s and 60s Jim Crow America gives you an explicit outline of the climate in which both Malcolm and Muhammad were dealing with at the time. This comes into play when after winning an Olympic gold medal at the 1960 Rome games, Ali is heartbroken when he’s refused service at a restaurant in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. Not long after that, Ali, while training in Miami meets Nation of Islam Miami minister Captain Sam. Under Sam’s tutelage, Ali, then known by his birth name Cassius Clay, is introduced to Malcolm X. Clarke then effortlessly shows footage of Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm and Ali’s interviews and speeches outlining the rise and fall of the relationship between the three of them.
The real MVPs of the movie are the daughters of Malcolm and Ali. These powerful women gave us never-before-heard insights into how Malcolm and Muhammad felt about each other before and after their fallout as friends. Malcolm’s daughter Ilyasah Shabazz reveals that by bringing his family around Ali, it was a testament to Malcolm’s love for Ali because he never brought his family around people. Both of Ali’s daughters who appeared in the film, Maryum and Hana Ali, revealed the regret and pain Ali carried around until the day he died because of his betrayal of Malcolm. Ilyasah revealed a little known fact. In 1975 after Elijah Muhammad died, Muhammad reached out to her mother Betty and began a relationship with Malcolm’s widow and three daughters. Clarke adds footage from Ali’s Louisville funeral a week after his passing in June of 1996 in which Malcolm’s oldest daughter Attalah gave a heartfelt eulogy. Attalah stated at Ali’s funeral that having Ali in her life sustained her father Malcolm’s breath in her life for another 51 years before she broke down in tears.
It is my belief that Ali’s betrayal of Malcolm X was the only decision he could’ve made. Had he decided to join forces with Malcolm and Malcolm’s new organization, greater forces than these two icons would’ve caused both men, not only Malcolm, to have been assassinated by the end of 1965. I also believe that if it weren’t for the teachings of Malcolm X, Ali, after Malcolm was murdered, would not have had the courage to stand tall against the United States government in his refusal to serve in the Vietnam War. It was Malcolm’s teachings and mentorship that I believe gave Ali the courage and wherewithal to take a never before stand seen against the most powerful government in the world.
Blood Brothers is both a fascinating and educational look at the events surrounding Malcolm and Muhammad’s brotherly relationship. Marcus A. Clarke’s film is another in a long line of fantastic documentaries featuring Ali and for the first time the often cited mythical relationship between these two Black icons is finally given historical context and clarity. For those who have Netflix, it is a must watch for not only boxing fans, but fans of American and World history as well.