Searchlight is developing a feature film centered on Muhammad Ali’s refusal to be inducted into the U.S. Army in 1967 during the Vietnam War, Variety has learned exclusively.
The project is based on Leigh Montville’s “Sting Like a Bee: Muhammad Ali vs. The United States of America.” The book centers on the cultural and political implications of Ali’s refusal of service in the military on the basis of his Islamic beliefs. It also shows the key moments in a life in exile from the ring as he risks losing everything — his boxing license, his career, even his freedom as he’s forced to take a stand in a battle for racial equality.
“The Last Tree” director Shola Amoo has been signed to direct the film from a script by Phillip Howze, whose credits include Netflix’s “Mindhunter” and “The Eddy.” Alix Madigan (Amazon’s “The Lie”) is producing.
Ali won the heavyweight world championship in 1964 at the age of 22 over Sonny Liston after taunting Liston before the fight, promising to “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” and predicting a knockout. He had changed his name to Muhammad Ali from Cassius Clay after joining the Nation of Islam in 1964.
In 1966, on learning that his local draft board had made him eligible to be drafted, Ali had said, “I ain’t got no quarrel with those Viet Cong.”
In 1967, he was convicted of draft evasion, sentenced to five years in prison, fined $10,000 and banned from boxing for three years. Ali remained out of prison while his case was appealed and his conviction was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1971. He retired from boxing in 1981 and was diagnosed with Parkinson’s syndrome three years later. He died in 2016.
Ali was the subject of the 2019 documentary “What’s My Name: Muhammad Ali,” directed by Antoine Fuqua and released on HBO. The film was produced by Maverick Carter, Maren Domzalski, Antoine Fuqua, Bill Gerber, Noor Haydar and LeBron James.
Amoo is represented by CAA and Cynthia Okoye at Curtis Brown. Howze is repped by Nicole Romano at Anonymous Content and Ziffren Brittenham. Madigan is repped by the Tricarico Chavez law firm.