One of the cool things about getting older is when Ken Burns makes a documentary about people or history that you witnessed as current events in your own lifetime.
The opportunity for time travel was the main initial appeal for me of the Burns team’s latest film, Muhammad Ali. I grew up hearing about this electrifying—and polarizing—figure, but everything I knew about him was filtered through parents and peers, the news coverage of the time, and my own limited attention for sports stuff. I was eager to get a fuller picture of his life.
I’m halfway through the four episodes, which are being shown on my local PBS station and can be streamed by PBS passport members. The film footage is fresh, fascinating, and new to me. I think it will be new to everyone except people who followed Muhammad Ali’s life very closely indeed. We see him as a whole person; he speaks for himself and is vividly alive.
It’s heroic and moving, a deep dive into the complexity of its subject. And because Muhammad Ali’s life intersected with so many other pivotal figures of his time, I find myself learning a lot about movements and people that I also only perceived through my childhood/adolescent filtration system.