Showtime network announced today a new limited series in development titled “The Ali Summit,” which will focus on the late Muhammad Ali’s refusal to enter the military over objections to the Vietnam War.
The story goes… a watershed moment in the civil rights movement and the protest against the Vietnam War, on April 28, 1967, boxing champion Muhammad Ali, citing religious reasons, decided to forgo military service, and as a result was stripped of his heavyweight title.
Born Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr., he changed his name to Muhammad Ali in 1964 after converting to Islam. With the United States at war in Vietnam, Ali refused to be inducted into the armed forces (“I ain’t got no quarrel with those Vietcong!”). On June 20, 1967, Ali was convicted of draft evasion, sentenced to five years in prison, fined $10,000 and banned from boxing for three years. He stayed out of prison as his case was appealed and returned to the ring on October 26, 1970. On March 8, 1971, Ali fought Joe Frazier in the “Fight of the Century” and lost after 15 rounds, the first loss of his professional boxing career. On June 28 of that same year, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned his conviction for evading the draft.
The “Summit” itself took place on June 4, 1967 in Cleveland, Ohio, and included a collection of some of the top black athletes in the country at the time (Jim Brown, Lew Alcindor/later Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Willie Davis, Bobby Mitchell, Sid Williams, Jim Shorter, Walter Beach, John Wooten, Curtis McClinton) and attorney Carl Stokes, met with – and eventually held a news conference in support of – Muhammad Ali over his refusal to be drafted into the U.S. Army in 1967.
The limited series’ overarching theme is how professional sports/athletes and civil rights have intersected and continue to intersect today. The story will also chronicle the FBI’s crusade against Ali, Jim Brown and other black leaders who came out in support of the heavy weight champ’s controversial decision while at the peak of his boxing career with a country in racial turmoil as the back drop.
Showtime is partnering up with brothers Jeff and Michael Zimbalist on “The Ali Summit”; the pair will executive produce, write and direct the project. The siblings most recently wrote and directed the Pelé biopic, “Pelé: Birth of a Legend.”
Brown, Monique Brown, Jeff Kirschenbaum and Joe Roth also will serve as executive producers.
No casting or ETA at this time. But feel free to play armchair casting director; there are several black male leads here – Ali, Brown, Abdul-Jabbar, to start.