FILM REVIEW: Soul Power
Directed by Jeffrey Levy-Hinte
Starring James Brown, Muhammad Ali, BB King
The 1974 showdown between George Foreman and Mohammad Ali in Kinshasa, Zaire for boxing’s heavyweight crown is already enshrined in 1997’s Oscar winning When We Were Kings. This companion piece documents the three-day festival that preceded the title fight, its line-up assembled by South African exile Hugh Masekela. It’s a great bill, mixing black and Latin America with African stars and the performances are intense, uplifting and beautifully shot.
James Brown, an icon for Africans, tops the bill but a flamboyant Celia Cruz, the Fania All Stars blazing behind her, steals the show. The sub-plots are just as fascinating. The culture shock of black Americans discovering Africa is palpable, as is the aura of black pride that surrounds the event.
At one point Ali, a smouldering presence, expresses amazement that a black pilot flew him there. At another Brown and Don King concede the event is about dollars rather than revolution. “You don’t get liberated broke,” snaps the Godfather. A couple more performances would have been welcome. Meanwhile, this is vital, eye-popping viewing.