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PBS announced this morning that Ken Burns, Sarah Burns and David McMahon are producing and directing a two-part, four-hour documentary about boxer/civil rights figure Muhammad Ali. Production began a year ago in early 2016, and the filmmakers anticipate a broadcast premiere in 2021 on PBS.
In the announcement, Burns described Muhammad Ali as “maybe the most iconic figure of the 20th century,” explaining, “He arrived at exactly the right moment, amidst the tumult and upheaval of the 1960s, and he shaped his times with his powerful voice, mesmerizing presence, and achievements in the ring.”
“But beyond the astonishing athletic gifts and mountain of charisma, there’s a very complex, dynamic man whose life story has yet to receive the comprehensive treatment it deserves.”
That said, four hours is on the short side for a Burns docu.
Daughter Sarah Burns added, “Muhammad Ali’s passing last year gave us reason to celebrate his boxing feats as well as his contributions as an ambassador for human rights, and as a voice and symbol of pacifism. But it’s easy to forget how divisive a figure he was, proudly associating with the Nation of Islam, refusing induction into the Army before the Vietnam War had become deeply unpopular.”
“We’re eager to get beyond the archetypes and examine who and what influenced his choices, and how he maintained the courage of his convictions when those choices seemed to go against the tide,” she said.