Muhammad Ali came along at a time of the simultaneous rise of both mass media and the star Black athlete. At this juncture, America was experiencing great social tumult and many athletes, used to a highly racist and punitive society, were afraid to speak out. Muhammad Ali was not one of those people. Handsome and charismatic almost to a fault, and also one of the top pugilists in the world, Ali (born Cassius Clay), became a force to be reckoned with both inside the boxing ring as well as out of it.
HBO unveiled its newest documentary “What’s My Name,” this past Tuesday, May 14, across all its platforms. Over the weekend, a three day event was held in honor of its debut. At the center was an installation which aimed to capture the essence of Ali the man. The private opening night reception took place Friday for press, social influencers and special guests, followed by a publically accessible viewing and experience Saturday and Sunday.
A special cocktail, called the GOAT, was created for the event. Made from tequila, aperol, pink peppercorn, lemon juice, pineapple and sage, it kept all the attendees’ thirsts at bay and the party popping!
The highly-anticipated documentary (which is narrated by Ali himself) was directed by Academy Award-winner Antoine Fuqua and executive produced by basketball greats Maverick Carter and LeBron James.
An immersive pop-up experience that creators say “took three to four months to pull together from idea to execution,” showcased different aspects of Muhammad Ali’s life covered in the film using eye-catching imagery, artwork, quotes, and directional speakers to target audio in the space. All of this was designed to provide immersive experiences and photo moments.
Epiphany Marketing in association with HBO’s Multicultural Marketing group erected several installations in the space on Grand Street that best symbolized what Ali stood for most of his life. That is, his athleticism, activism and oratorical skill.
In a brief chat with the New York Amsterdam News, Jane Kim-Smith, vice president of account management at Epiphany Marketing, explained, “HBO really wanted to create a space that celebrated Ali and that also spoke to what the documentary is about. It’s the first documentary where the entire thing is narrated in his words. There’s no other talking heads, it’s just Ali.”
Said Kim-Smith, “The space is split into those zones. The activist space is a symbol of his stance on the Vietnam War.” That space consisted of a set of old fashioned press microphones with picket style signs protesting the war and urging civil rights, as its backdrop. A model of one of Ali’s lockers was decorated with vintage photos of the champion and large video screens played the trailer for the upcoming documentary on loop.
A boxing ring, which dominated much of the space, was obviously symbolic of his career as a pugilist and his prowess at the sport. Then there was a room set up with vintage televisions with Ali’s speeches piped in. Said Kim-Smith, “In the orator room, there are two poems that he created on his own and you can hear those.” Of the choice to use vintage televisions for this space she said, “We wanted to complement the audio and obviously this is from the 1960s and 1970s so we took inspiration from that decor-wise and used vintage televisions and clips of him being interviewed, him fighting, etc.” Large, graphic quotes also adorned the walls of the TV room.
The most fun part of the installation was in an upstairs loft area. There, a cameraman filmed attendees as they pretended to be in a boxing ring facing off with a tough opponent. The resulting video was then emailed to the participants.
This isn’t the first time HBO has teamed up with Epiphany Marketing for a live installation like this. They did one a few months before the premiere of Terence Nance’s variety sketch series “Random Acts of Flyness.” Kim-Smith reveals this type of experience is now a fairly normal part of marketing efforts. “We want people to not only see the films but also experience them in a tangible way.” She explained that HBO plans to do pop-ups for other series as well though she wasn’t certain which ones.