When We Were Kings is an Academy Award winning documentary feature about the 1974 “Rumble In The Jungle” between then heavyweight champion of the world George Foreman and former heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali. When Were Kings is on the surface a documentary about one of the greatest boxing matches of all time it is also about black pride and making a statement about race in what were seminal times in the world of sport and politics as they dealt with race.
When We Were Kings has footage of Foreman and Ali of course – though much more of Ali than Foreman. It also has great footage of civil rights leader and god father of soul James Brown in performance and talking. Seeing archive footage of Don King and Mobutu Sese Seko (two men who have more in common than it would appear on the surface) is an interesting and creepy experience. The Rumble In The Jungle has long ago taken on mythic proportions because it was such an important event in history. No boxing match before (with a nod to Baer v Braddock) or since has held the world in its grip the way Foreman v Ali did. It was broadcast live from Kinshasa, Zaire (now Democratic Republic of the Congo) at 4 a.m. so the folks back in the U.S.A. could see the fight. News organizations from all over the world sent their reporters to cover the event.
Commentary is offered throughout the film from two reporters who were there to witness the fight for their respective publications. Norman Mailer was there writing for Playboy and George Plimpton was there to witness for Sports Illustrated and both offer their remembrances of both the event and what sports writers and the man on the street were thinking about the fight at the time. While watching the documentary it is clear to see why Mohammad Ali became such a force in the sports world and spokesman for civil rights he has personality to spare. Ironically the now effusive George Foreman is practically silent through this documentary though there is an interesting glimpse into his own spirituality when he is talking about some of the things fans yell to him when he is out on the street in Zaire.
When We Are Kings is a must watch and easily ranks at the best boxing documentary every produced.