Nov 24, 2020 | Atlanta, GA
By Michael Pearson
Georgia Tech historian Johnny Smith’s 2016 book detailing the secretive friendship between Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X will be made into an 8-part miniseries by A+E Studios.
Blood Brothers: The Fatal Friendship Between Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X details the complicated relationship between the fighter and the Nation of Islam minister and how it helped transform the boxer into the man he would become.
It is one of three books that Smith, the Julius C. “Bud” Shaw Professor of Sports History in the School of History and Sociology, has written with co-author Randy Roberts, Distinguished Professor of History at Purdue University.
Smith views the miniseries as an opportunity to broaden the reach of his research.
“I see myself as a public scholar. And for me, what that means is expanding the audience of history students,” he said. He does that by writing deeply researched books with broad appeal and engaging with the public through lectures, media appearances, and more.
“My hope is always that people will say, ‘This is fascinating. This is entertaining. I want to learn more,’” Smith said.
Smith and Roberts will serve as consulting producers on the miniseries. Smith said he and his co-author have always seen the potential for a cinematic adaptation of their book.
“You have these incredible, well-known characters in a relationship that developed out of public view until Cassius Clay begins training for a heavyweight championship in 1964. It’s a story of conflict, violence in America, violence in the boxing ring, and violence outside the ring. It’s a story about brotherhood and love and affection. It’s also a story about betrayal and loss.”
Smith expects that the script will veer from their carefully crafted and sourced narrative, but sees opportunity there, as well.
“A dramatic series will allow the screenwriter to explain more fully what the private conversations between Clay and Malcolm X may have been like. As historians, we can’t take those same leaps because our work is based on primary sources.”
The series has not yet begun production, and no date for a premiere has been set.
Screenwriter Charles Murray and NBA star Carmelo Anthony are involved in the project.
Smith is part of the Sports, Society, and Technology program in the School of History and Sociology. The program examines U.S. history and culture through the lens of sports, including topics of race, gender, economic, and politics.
The School of History and Sociology is a unit of the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts.