Photo Credit: Dorothy Hong
Photo Credit: Dorothy Hong

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Maverick Carter and Antoine Fuqua Capture Ali’s Legacy

By Bradford William Davis

The executive producer and director of What’s My Name | Muhammad Ali discuss The Greatest and his extraordinary life.

Rembert Browne remembers the Muhammad Ali poster that his mother hung in his childhood bedroom. “My mom made it very clear at a young age that in a Black household, Ali, Martin, Malcolm and Jesus were our Holy Trinity plus one.”

Though his mother’s list wasn’t necessarily in any particular order, yes, Rembert listed Jesus fourth.

The same reverence for Ali instilled in the Browne home pulsed through the Chase Contemporary Art Gallery in Manhattan, as fans of the great fighter came to celebrate What’s My Name | Muhammad Ali, an upcoming documentary film executive produced by LeBron James and Maverick Carter (The Shop) and executive produced and directed by Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, The Equalizer).

Photos and memorabilia of Ali lined the gallery walls alongside original artwork from established artists and emerging talents like Bria Murphy. During the reception, Browne sat down with Carter and Fuqua to discuss the boxing legend’s extraordinary life and how they seek to follow in his footsteps.

First Encounters With Ali

Carter remembers debating the historical greats with his dad at an early age. His father was a huge boxing fan and because his aunt “was married to a guy with enough money to order a pay-per-view,” they always had a place to gather and watch the marquee fights.

“No matter who we were watching, my dad would always go back to Ali,” Carter told Browne. “It usually had nothing to do with how he great he was as a boxer, but what he meant to Black people.”

Fuqua echoed Browne’s early admiration for Ali alongside civil rights icons Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, citing him as a “rare representative of Black manhood” when he was a young boy.

A Fresh Approach

When Carter and SpringHill Entertainment, the production company he co-founded with James, began to plan an Ali film, he admitted that it was challenging at the outset. “How do you tell a story about a man who feels like everything about him, every piece of his life has been broken down?” he told the crowd. Carter credits Fuqua for finding a way to tell Ali’s story “in a way you’ve never experienced him before.”

“I wanted to understand the gene some cats have that allows them to get beat down for round after round and keep fighting,” Fuqua said. Capturing Ali’s indomitable will became Fuqua’s narrative anchor for the project. “This is a man that claimed his own name,” said Fuqua. “He changed his name and his religion and he was prosecuted for it. But he stayed positive through it.”

Ali’s pride in his name drew Fuqua to his famous beatdown of Ernie Terrell in 1967. While pummeling him in the ring, the champ taunted Terrell by screaming “What’s my name? What’s my name?” as retribution for failing to acknowledge that he was no longer Cassius Clay. Revisiting that brawl coalesced their approach to the docuseries.

Carrying Ali’s Legacy

“How do I take the passion I put into my life and put that into others?” Carter began to ask himself while making What’s My Name. The veteran business leader shared his efforts to elevate Black people within large companies, especially those attempting to market to African Americans. “Through studying Ali, I’ve learned that figuring out how you can help others is a lifelong journey.”

“Whether you have a long life or a short life,” Fuqua added, “you want people to say you lived a life well-lived. And Ali lived a life well-lived.”

What’s My Name | Muhammad Ali premieres May 14 on HBO.

Remembering The Greatest

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