Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight, starring Christopher Plummer, Frank Langella and Benjamin Walker, will debut on Saturday, October 5 at 8 PM on HBO. Directed by Stephen Frears from a script by Shawn Slovo, Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight, dramatizes the machinations of the Supreme Court as Ali pursued Conscientious Objector status. HBO Films is producing in association with SAF Films West. Frank Doelger, Tracey Scoffield, Jonathan Cameron and Frears are executive producers.
HBO’s movie Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight has a lily-white cast because it’s a Supreme Court drama set in 1971, the show’s creators explained today at TCA Summer TV Press Tour. This was in response to a TV critic who asked them why the movie had so many white characters and didn’t “go into what black people were thinking” when the heavyweight champ refused to be conscripted into the U.S. military to fight in Vietnam on religious grounds. The movie spans just a few weeks — about six months before Roe v Wade. Ali does appear in the movie, but it’s Actual Ali, 100 percent archival footage.
“We were making a Supreme Court drama,” explained screenwriter Shawn Slovo, noting that all but one of the justices and all of the clerks were white men. “There were no black clerks and woman clerks,” Slovo explained patiently, adding, “That’s the drama we were telling. We chose to make a Supreme Court drama about the Ali case.” For refusing to be conscripted into the military, Ali was arrested, found guilty on draft evasion charges and stripped of his boxing title. In 1971 the Supreme Court overturned his conviction. This movie is about the justices coming to that decision. One critic asked Slovo to compare that Supreme Court with today’s.