HBO Sports’ two-part documentary, ‘What’s My Name | Muhammad Ali’, makes its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in order to chronicle the inspiring and timeless story of the iconic boxer, humanitarian, and proud personality.
Told in his own words through a series of archival interviews, press meetings, and fights, some of which have never been seen by the public before. What’s My Name explores the various roadblocks, pitfalls, comebacks, and triumphs of Ali’s career, but solely told by the man himself. The two-part documentary paints the journey of a young Cassius Clay defining himself as Muhammad Ali and standing solidly as a pinnacle of hope for oppressed people across the world.
We had a chance to chat with Executive Producer Bill Gerber, who most recently served as a producer on A Star Is Born, about his experience growing up with Ali and what the icon means in today’s societal landscape.
Here’s what he had to say:
The Knockturnal: Congratulations on the premiere of What’s My Name | Muhammad Ali! To kick things off, can you tell me a little bit about how you first got involved with the film?
Bill Gerber: I first got involved with the film because I was working with the Ali estate on some businesses and a few people had come in saying they wanted to do a Muhammad Ali documentary, and so, I was charged with deciding who to do it with. And I thought, if we’re going to do a Muhammad Ali documentary, we should go big and get the greatest partners and make it a really important testament to one of the most important, significant people of our time, of our generation, of the century. So literally I was talking to Paul Wachter about how the estate wanted to do a documentary, and he said LeBron [James] would do it in a second. And I went “really?” He goes “yeah!” LeBron had just set up all his entertainment companies and was really going for it. And so, Paul called Richard Peppler and HBO and one thing led to another. And then Maverick [Carter] called up [director] Antoine [Fuqua] and we were off running to get the support of HBO, Michael Lombardo, and Carrie Anne Toulouse, and they couldn’t have been more positive and helpful. And we were able to clear all kinds of footage from fights and from interviews as people haven’t seen before, so it’s a really great documentary.
The Knockturnal: Absolutely! What is it that you’re hoping audiences take away most from Ali’s story and this portrayal of it?
Bill Gerber: I mean, if you don’t know how significant Ali’s contributions were to the last 50 years, you will after this movie. But I think also, I hope people realize how important it is to give back. And he really gave back in such a way and did fights he shouldn’t have been doing to make money to give to the Ali Center to help people. I mean, that type of giving back is rare in our society right now, and he really exemplified that idea of giving back to his community.
The Knockturnal: Growing up with Muhammad Ali as this pinnacle figure, is there anything that you personally connected with or drew inspiration from?
Bill Gerber: My fighting career was really short lived! *laughs* No, [I’m kidding], I grew up in a house where basically the only things that mattered were the Beatles and Muhammad Ali. For me, it’s a dream come true to be associated with this film.
The Knockturnal: Muhammad Ali did so much for his communities and spoke up for minorities when they felt like they didn’t have a voice, and he gave back to them. How and why do you think that that’s an important reminder given our current political climate?
Bill Gerber: Well I think it’s not just minorities, I think everybody learns from this movie that you have to believe in something. And when you do, you have to stand up for it. And that’s what I think Ali’s message for everyone is. It has nothing to do with race, or religion, or anything. Just extraordinary, personal confidence and conviction that he exemplifies.
Check out a trailer for the film below!