Oct. 1, 2015
BLOOMINGTON, Ill.—Alumna Kat White ’85 served as an executive producer of the documentary The Trials of Muhammad Ali, which won a News and Documentary Emmy Award on Sept. 28.
The film won the Emmy in the Outstanding Historical Programming – Long Form category. A production of the Chicago-based Kartemquin Films, Trials explores the extraordinary and complex life of the legendary athlete outside the world of boxing. From joining the Nation of Islam and changing his name from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali, from his refusal to serve in the Vietnam War in the name of protesting racial inequality, Ali’s path was that of poet to pariah to global ambassador for peace.
White said she was collaborating with Kartemquin Films on Life Itself, a documentary on the late Roger Ebert, as executive producer, when she learned Trials had run into some “fair use” clearance issues as well as funding and distribution constraints.
“Once I met with the producer, Rachel Pikelny, and saw some of director Bill Siegel’s raw footage, I knew it was a gem of project,” said White.
“Most folks know about Ali, the athlete,” she added. “Few know about the ordeal, prejudice and trial he went through as a conscientious objector.”
In 1967, after being denied conscientious objector status, Ali refused military induction. Convicted of draft evasion, he was sentenced to five years in prison, his passport was revoked and he was stripped of his title and banned from boxing.
Trials includes rare archival footage of Ali’s speeches on college campuses and heated exchanges during TV appearances in the late 1960s. Most of the interviewees in the film have never before been featured in any Ali film. These include his brother, Rahman; his former wife, Khalilah Camacho-Ali; New York Times writer Robert Lipsyte; and Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.
“Historical issues like these need to be documented and broadcast in the hopes that society will learn and correct its course,” White said.
Broadcast on PBS Independent Lens in April 2014, the film received three News and Documentary Emmy nominations for Best Documentary, Outstanding Historical Programming – Long Form, and Outstanding Editing. The film is now available in iTunes, Netflix and Amazon Instant Video.
White is a principal in Chicago-based KatLei Productions. She’s currently licensing music associated with the independent feature film Imperfections, but she said the bulk of her projects center on Broadway productions and cast albums. Listen to a podcast where White talks about her start in the entertainment industry, the films Trials and Life Itself, and her involvement in Broadway productions such as the Tony Award-winning musical Kinky Boots.