— It ain’t easy being the daughter of legendary boxer Muhammad Ali or walking in his shoes, but Laila Ali has been cementing her own footprints ever since she stepped into the ring. In February, she filmed a documentary, Daddy’s Girl, which will air on Father’s Day on TV One (check listings). Holding two world titles and 21 knockouts under her belt, Ali documented her historical fight in Soweto, South Africa this past February while immersing herself in the culture and people. Essence.com kicked it with her about bonding with African women, making good on her threats, fighting men and rump-shaking video girls.
So judging by the title of the documentary, do you consider yourself a daddy’s or Mama’s Girl?
Although I didn’t choose the title, it made perfect sense once we started filming and pegging it to Father’s Day. And while I don’t get too caught up in the title, I’d definitely have to say I’m more of a “mama’s girl.”
So that would make you a ‘mama’s girl’ with her daddy’s left hook. In your documentary, Daddy’s Girl, you are embarking on a fight in South Africa. Did your father’s historic fight in the Motherland inspire you to pick up where he left off?
No, it was never my intention to mirror what my father has done, career or otherwise. As a Black person, I have always wanted to visit Africa. It was a wonderful opportunity and the women and children I met were not inspired by me because of who my father is, but just because I was a strong woman.
Speaking of strong, you knocked out Gwendolyn O’Neal in 56 seconds. Did you two speak afterwards or was she a sore loser? As far as speaking afterwards, I always practice sportsmanship and do the handshake afterwards. The exchange of trash talking between you two was thoroughly entertaining. Were you serious about your threats?
I’m always dead serious because I’m zeroed in on the person I’m fighting. There’s a method to my madness. I could care less about entertaining the public or what the fans think at the end of the day because when you’re doing well they love you and the minute you slip, they are booing you. I have to be myself and that’s what’s going on when I’m talking to my opponent. I’m focused on winning not creating doubt by worrying about everyone else. Before a fight there is no friendliness. I don’t want to your child, none of that. There’s no need to create closeness, I’m trying to go in their and kick your a**, not shake your hand and be your friend.
Would you ever fight a man?
No, I wouldn’t. First of all, men are always gonna be stronger. I’ve been in the ring and sparred with men and they can take more than women, that’s just the way God made us. I respect that kind of disadvantage because all it takes is a knock upside the head and a man could knock me out. I can apply that same force to him, but he can withstand the punch.
During your visit, what is the one thing that resonated with you about the people?
Seeing how much self-pride and love they have as well as how much they value their education. There is a new generation that has different needs as a community than they did when my father was there and they were in the midst of segregation. My father stoop up for what he believed in and that was what was needed at the time, but right now, we’ve gotten past certain things. So if my presence in their country could help in any way, I was honored to be there.
Oprah has said that African children value their education more than African-American children. Do you agree?
Definitely because they don’t have the amenities or the luxuries we take for granted. In Africa, there are people living in shacks the size of my bathroom with no lights or running water. They are sharing books with so many other students. Naturally, if you don’t have something you are going to value it more just like you would take what you do have access to regularly for granted.
Do you think the division within the African-American community caused by the lightskin versus darkskin controversy, which is also prevalent in Africa, will cease?
Maybe 300 years from now, if this world is still here. Because America is mixing up so much with various cultures, there won’t ever be one pure race so who knows.
You are very forthcoming about the role that video girls play in the degradation of women in hip-hop culture in your documentary. Can you share some of your views?
I wouldn’t judge the women in these music videos if their actions didn’t affect anyone else. Unfortunately, when you have young impressionable girls who want attention and want to be called pretty and we already don’t have enough positive role models then it’s a huge problem. These young girls need to know that they can be pretty and liked without disrespecting themselves. But video girls are only part of a bigger problem. Everybody in the public eye especially when you turn on the music videos all you see is us glorifying money and degrading women so that’s what the young people are into because they watch it all day long. We need to start making positive things hot and they younger generation will buy it, but someone has to brave enough to use their celebrity to step up to the plate and be a leader and not a follower.
Photo Credit: Lettie Ferreira