Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali are giants of history. Both men were icons of their generation whose influence was instrumental in changing the tides of culture and society. They were also incredibly close. They viewed each other as brothers who believed in and were willing to fight for the same cause. But their relationship was a complex one, entangled in conflicting ideologies and politics that would eventually tear them apart and lead to tragedy. Netflix documentary Blood Brothers: Malcolm X & Muhamad Ali (directed by Marcus A Clarke) traces this bond and attempts to shed light on why their friendship ended the way it did.
The film plays out in a mostly chronological structure. Featuring various family members alongside those who knew them best, the piece begins by recounting how each subject grew in prominence up to their eventual meeting. For anyone who studied modern American history at school, the events being discussed – Jim Crow laws, Malcolm X’s prison stint and the murder of Emmett Till – will be familiar territory. However, this feature is less interested in being a history lesson than it is in contextualising and exploring the significance that these events had in shaping the nature of the central relationship.
As their stories progress, viewers learn more about the role that Islam played in their lives; of their controversial and often radical viewpoints; and of the life-changing influence that Elijah Mohamad (the leader of The Nation of Islam) held over each of them. Their tale is as complex as it is ultimately tragic, and the filmmaker effectively summarises why this is the case without oversimplifying anything.
The documentary’s greatest asset comes into play towards the end when it raises some difficult questions regarding faith, loyalty and the ever-changing narratives of history. By refraining from characterising any of the key players as the villain, the film only accentuates the moral grey area in which these questions reside. And in highlighting differing perspectives on these events, the director helps the audience to understand why and how things played out as they did.
Blood Brothers does more than recount a historical and influential friendship. It offers a cerebral, engrossing and fascinating examination of why this partnership played a bigger part in history than viewers might think.
Blood Brothers is released on Netflix on 9th September 2021.
Watch the trailer for Blood Brothers here: