Float Like a Butterfly Saturday at the Central Pratt, a 1969 Muhammad Ali documentary tells the fighter’s provocative political story.

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photo by Ira Rosenberg
photo by Ira Rosenberg

To commemorate the remarkable life of former heavyweight boxing champion and political/cultural/social provocateur Muhammad Ali, who died in June, the Pratt Library screens director William Klein’s 1969 black-and-white documentary Float Like a Butterfly, Sting Like a Bee, which deftly and unflinchingly chronicles Ali from his early fighting career as Cassius Clay through his religious conversion to the Nation of Islam (accounting for his rebirth as Ali), and his years-long battle with the U.S. government over his refusal to accept induction into the nation’s armed forces.

Like Ali, Klein considered himself an outsider, a contention abundantly evidenced initially through his career as an unorthodox and unconventional fashion photographer, and, later, as a sometimes barbed, always highly personal narrative and documentary filmmaker.

“What makes this rarely seen documentary so important is that Klein is less interested in Ali the boxer than in Ali as an icon of ’60s black empowerment,” says Tom Warner, a librarian in the Sights and Sounds Department at the Pratt’s Central Branch, who will present the film. “Klein was granted unlimited access to Ali for almost a decade, and his verite filmmaking style gives viewers some revealing moments, from the patronizing comments of the white businessmen known as the ‘Louisville Syndicate,’ who originally backed the young fighter, to a lengthy, in-depth interview with Malcolm X just weeks before his assassination.”

Saturday at 2 p.m. in the Meyerhoff Children’s Garden at the Pratt’s Central Branch. Free. 410-396-4616. prattlibrary.org

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