PBS has announced the airdate for Ken Burns’ four-part documentary on Muhammad Ali. The film, titled Muhammad Ali, will run during the week of Sept. 19-22, airing from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET each night.
Leading up to the documentary’s premiere, Burns will participate with PBS and ESPN’s The Undefeated for a series of conversations about sports and race in America. According to the official release, these virtual events will feature figures from sports and entertainment, in addition to writers and scholars. Clips from the film will be shown, accompanied by discussions of the historic and current impact of Ali’s life and career throughout American and global culture.
“Muhammad Ali remains one of the most iconic figures in American history,” said The Undefeated’s new vice president and editor-in-chief Raina Kelley.
“He has been studied and modeled and quoted extensively, and his life’s story is central to understanding the modern Black athlete and this period of activism and social change that The Undefeated has been privileged to chronicle. We are proud to collaborate with PBS and Ken Burns to host this exciting conversation series on the meaning of Ali and his lasting legacy.”
Additionally, PBS Learning Media will offer educational materials for students focused on race and its role in sports throughout the 20th century.
Written and directed by Burns with Sarah Burns and David McMahon, Muhammad Ali will cover the boxer’s athletic career and his effect as a cultural figure. Ali won three heavyweight championships and an Olympic gold medal, participating in some of the most widely-viewed fights in sports history. Those include 1971’s “Fight of the Century” and 1975’s “The Thrilla in Manila” versus Joe Frazier, and 1974’s “The Rumble in the Jungle” with George Foreman.
Ali might be even better known for his influence outside of the ring. He used his high profile to speak out on racial prejudice and religion, views often influenced by his relationships with Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad. Those stances and actions threatened his career, such as when he was stripped of his heavyweight title and faced imprisonment due to his conscientious objection to the Vietnam War and refusal to be drafted.
Among the many writers, historians, and academics interviewed for the documentary include sportswriter Dave Kindred, ESPN’s Howard Bryant, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Ali biographer Jonathan Eig (also a consulting producer on the film), boxing promoter Bob Arum, USC media studies professor Todd Boyd, New Yorker editor David Remnick, The Nation‘s Dave Zirin, Rutgers journalism professor Khadijah White, novelist Walter Mosley, and MIT history professor Craig Wilder.
Muhammad Ali joins several sports-themed films Burns has made during his career including Baseball (and its companion The Tenth Inning), Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson, and Jackie Robinson.