ABOVE: Big George Foreman private premiere at Edwards Greenway Grand Palace
Photography by Medron White
The Edwards Greenway Grand Palace recently held the premiere of the upcoming Big George Foreman biopic. When you hear “premiere,” you might expect a red carpet and camera flashes as stars arrive in limousines to be interviewed by the press. But there wasn’t a red carpet. There weren’t flashes from the paparazzi. What we did have was a packed-out theater and a surprise appearance from the man himself!
Shortly before the film began around 7:20 pm, legendary boxer George Foreman entered the second-floor theater. Moviegoers recognized him immediately as Foreman, 74, joined friends and family near the front of the screen. Local lawmakers like Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis presented Foreman with a belt buckle in a nod to his cowboy roots, and Houston track legend Carl Lewis joined them for photographs.
Foreman briefly addressed the crowd, thanking them for attending. He spoke of the film’s inspirational nature, saying, “There are a lot of people coming to the United States every day,” he said. “A new land. Immigrating. And they think, ‘I can’t make it.’ When they see this movie, they can see that anybody can.”
George Edward Foreman was born in Marshall, TX in 1949 but the film starts in Fifth Ward (although we can tell it wasn’t filmed there). New Orleans serves as a stand-in. Director George Tillman, Jr. spoke about the decision, “New Orleans offers a great tax incentive, which means you get more for your dollar. It also looks like Houston’s Fifth Ward, where Foreman grew up.”
So, what we see is a replica of Fifth Ward – where George Foreman and his six siblings lived in abject poverty. We see a teenage George narrowly escape police cars after he and his friend attempt to rob an undercover officer. We see him join the Job Corps, a decision that changes his life — there he meets Doc Broadus (Forest Whitaker), who introduces him to boxing, becoming his trainer and mentor. The film depicts Foreman’s meteoric rise as an amateur boxer, winning Olympic gold in 1968 at just 19. We see, in vivid detail, both his career highs (winning the heavyweight championship in 1973) and lows (losing the title to Muhammad Ali in 1974).
We see Foreman’s slump in the late ‘70s and the dramatic epiphany that led to him being “born again” in 1977. We also see Foreman open a youth center in Houston to steer youth away from drugs and crime. We see him preach before his congregation, turning down offers to resume boxing. And we see the financial difficulties that forced him to return to the ring in 1987. What we don’t see are the three marriages (and divorces) between 1977 and 1985. We don’t see how he kept track of five sons all named George — or even all 10 of his children. We also don’t get much backstory on the George Foreman Grills that made him a household name (again) in the 1990s. (Or how he negotiated the $100 million name & licensing deal for the grills in 1999.)
“They had to cut a lot out, and I wish I could’ve cut the same [parts] out of my life, too,” Foreman shared with media members at Monday’s premiere. “But it’s a long story. It would take days to tell it.”
It took months of dieting and training for Foreman to get back into fighting shape once he returned to boxing in 1987. And it took years of matches to work his way back to the big time. But in 1994, Foreman shocked the world by knocking out boxer Michael Moorer to regain his heavyweight championship title. He became the oldest heavyweight champion in boxing history.
It’s a remarkable coda to an unlikely story. “The most unbelievable story I’ve ever heard of is the George Foreman story,” he said at the Big George Foreman premiere. “I didn’t think it was possible, and I worked hard anyway.”
You can see that hard work pay off when Big George Foreman hits theatres on April 28.