SIFF Double Feature – The Trials of Muhammad Ali / Evergreen: The Road to Legalization in Washington
The Trials of Muhammad Ali: Honestly, I could not name a modern boxer if my life depended on it. I’m not a sports fan, and boxing seems about as far from my interests as you could get. However, I’ve known about Muhammad Ali just about all my life, and having seen The Trials of Muhammad Ali, directed by Bill Siegel, at the Seattle International Film Festival, I now understand why he had such an impact on my parent’s generation.
Born Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr. in 1942, Ali dedicated his life to boxing starting at age 12. At 22—with 7 to 1 odds against him—he beat Sonny Liston and seized the heavyweight world championship. His name change came with his religious conversion to the Nation of Islam, and a new activism followed. When it was his turn to be drafted into the Vietnam War, he claimed conscientious objector status based on his religious beliefs and refused to go. He was found guilty of draft evasion and was unable to legally box in the United States until the Supreme Court settled his case. Rather than deciding the case based on religious reasons, it was decided his right to a fair trial had been violated. Otherwise all the Nation of Islam men would have been able to claim the same conscientious objector status.
This is a very good film that shows Ali in all of his complexity. He was a civil rights leader, but one who believed that segregation—not integration—of the races was the only way for Black people to attain parity with their White neighbors. How could a Black man attain his full status in a world where everything in the culture was geared towards keeping him in his place? He agreed with Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad when he said that White people were devils, and yet he was able to work peaceably and respectfully with White folks throughout his career, including a group of Louisville businessmen who initially served as his backers. He was a conscientious objector whose source of income came from beating other men until they fell. He stood up for his beliefs at the expense of his career, courting jail time, and it is interesting how a man who denied the capability of white culture to define him became so revered by that culture over time. While I knew before watching he had been a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War, I had no idea about the origins and specifics of his beliefs, and this film made me recognize that I really knew next to nothing. Educate yourself about an intriguing public figure, and go see this movie!
This movie plays at the SIFF Cinema Uptown on June 7th and the Egyptian Theater on June 8th.
Final Grade: A-
Evergreen: The Road to Legalization in Washington: I was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, and even though I don’t smoke pot (I don’t need any help being more paranoid, thank you very much), I’ve spent my entire life around people who do. So it was no surprise to me when Washington State passed I-502 to legalize some marijuana usage. Evergreen: The Road to Legalization in Washington, directed by Riley Morton and premiering at the Seattle International Film Festival, tells the story of the people behind the initiative, and how it came to pass in 2012. The most interesting aspect of the film is not the opposition given by anti-legalization proponents (they are given lip service, but not much else), but from pot smokers who do not believe I-520 actually legalizes anything. Most of these opponents are medical marijuana patients who object to the DUI punishments and age restrictions included in the initiative. Their arguments, as I understand them, are that impairment differs by person so it is hard to measure, arrests for more serious DUIs will replace arrests for possession, and people under 21 will be unfairly targeted because they will be unable to imbibe. I find these arguments to be confusing because under the old laws, there was zero tolerance of any possession, even though in some parts of the state there wasn’t that much enforcement. Also, when pot smokers tell me they are fine to drive, it’s exactly like listening to a drunk tell me the same thing. You just might be, but I’m not really all that excited about finding out.
Evergreen: The Road to Legalization in Washington is a good film that is mildly hampered for me by the fact that so many pot advocates are stereotypical stoners. I was raised in a hippie town, and I’ll be honest, mainstream pot culture bugs the crap out of me. I have nothing against folks enjoying themselves in their own homes, but the Hempfest/Reggae/Crusty lovefest is just not my thing. (Yes, I am aware that not every smoker is like that. They are just the ones who bug me the most in this movie.) Also, the conspiracy theorists do not put the best face on the anit-520 movement. But it’s fairly realistic to have pot smokers in a movie about marijuana legalization, so my complaints are kind of bogus. Whatever. It’s a good movie, and if you are interested in how I-520 might shape up, you should give it a try.
This movie plays at the Egyptian Theater on June 6th and at the SIFF Cinema Uptown on June 8th.
Final Grade: B+