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Review: When We Were Kings (1996)

When We Were Kings (1996)

Directed by: Leon Gast

Premise: A documentary film about “The Rumble in the Jungle,” the 1974 heavyweight boxing championship match in Zaire between George Foreman and Muhammad Ali.

What Works: When We Were Kings mixes archival footage of the promotion, the fight, and the native people of Zaire with contemporary interviews. This allows the audience to see the key players as they were, both in and out of the ring, while also providing commentary with critical distance. The documentary is able to give a sense of what the fight meant to the African American community and to the boxing world. When We Were Kings is also able a look into Don King and the marketing of the fight and how “The Rumble in the Jungle” both tapped into the issues of the time but also had a ripple effect on American culture.

What Doesn’t: The film will only be weak to those expecting a complete recapitulation of the fight. Although Ali’s fight is a great underdog story, and the documentary describes that, the film is not ninety minutes of boxing action. 

DVD extras: Interview with director Leon Gast.

Bottom Line: When We Were Kings is a great sports documentary, one that links athletics to merchandising, politics, and culture in enlightening ways. The film is also a great reminder of how beautiful and artistic athletic prowess can be.

Episode: #123 (December 24, 2006)