Gast, Leon. When We Were Kings (DVD—documentary film). PolyGram Filmed Entertainment/Gramercy Films, Universal Studios, 2002. $14.98, ASIN: B00007ELEK
Description and critical evaluation: This is a documentary film chronicling the famous 1974 “Rumble in the Jungle,” a boxing match between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman set in Kinshasa, Zaire. Gast had been trying to get the film released for years. Ali had just lost his title because of his opposition to the war in Vietnam. Foreman was now the champion and a flashy bout with some serious historical and cultural significance was set up. They waited and waited. Ali displays all of the charm and style for which he became famous. In the film, American and African cultures come together in a fascinating juxtaposition. In the background are hundreds of years of fraught history, making the viewing of this film incredibly compelling. It is a cultural mashup, a historical document, a biographical exploration. To top it off, the fight is thrilling. This is a potent film to keep in a school or public library. The layers of complexity mean that it can withstand more than one viewing.
Reader’s Annotation: When champion boxers Muhammad Ali and George Foremen meet in Africa for a fabled boxing match, African and American cultures come together in fascinating and historically meaningful ways.
Director bio: Leon Gast is an award-winning documentary film director. Raised in Jersey City, New Jersey, he studied at Columbia University before becoming a director.
His films show the directors wide-ranging interests: His first films focused on Latin music and the singer Celia Cruz, and then he moved on to direct films about the rock band The Grateful Dead, the motorcycle club The Hell’s Angels, “The Rumble in the Jungle,” and, most recently, a film about paparazzi photographer Ron Gallela. He is currently working on a film about another boxing superstar, Manny Pacquiao.
Genre: Documentary Film.
Curriculum Ties: African American History.
Interest Age: 13+
Challenge Issues: N/A
Why Included: For students who love sports and history, this is a great selection. It focuses on one event, but it’s also about the civil rights movement.