When We Were Kings

Director: Leon Gast

Institute History


When We Were Kings, a chronicle of the Ali-Foreman heavyweight boxing match from 1974, is a superb pastiche of history, drama, and culture. Utilizing original footage of the “rumble in the jungle” when it took place in Kineshasa, Zaire, the film is on one level a lost documentary: never-before-seen images, now twenty-one years after the fact, of the Fight of the Century between a then relatively unpopular, but fearsome, boxer named George Foreman and his nearly mythical antagonist, the incomparable Muhammad Ali.

But When We Were Kings is much more than the story of a great fight. Filmmakers Leon Gast and Taylor Hackford have constructed a riveting story of the drama and significance of an event which signified the beginning of a new age of black culture and identity. Complete with performances by B.B. King, James Brown, and Miriam Makeba, marked by the launching of the career of notorious promoter Don King, and overshadowed by the ominous presence of President Mobutu, this is a wonderful discourse on what it meant to be black in America in that tumultuous time. Not only does the film deal with issues of segregation and integration and the emergence of black pride and black consciousness, but most critically, it describes the return to Africa of black American visitors.

Remarkably told and featuring insights and commentary from both then and now by such stalwarts as Norman Mailer, George Plimpton, and Spike Lee, When We Were Kings represents an incredible job of editing and structuring as well as a dramatically stirring report. The star of the show is the absolutely compelling Ali. Both as athlete and entertainer, persona and man, he is a remarkable figure whose presence elevates an already captivating work.

— Geoffrey Gilmore

Screening Details

Sundance Film Festival Awards

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