Our Take: 4/5 Stars
For over twenty years, Venus and Serena Williams have been household names not only in the world of tennis, but in American culture and society. Two of the greatest tennis players of all time, the sisters’ journey to stardom has been nothing short of incredible.
The Williams sisters have inspired countless people, especially young Black girls, to chase their dreams and to push themselves to succeed.
With Warner Bros. new film, “King Richard,” and the sisters’ continued efforts on and off the court, Venus and Serena are sure to continue inspiring the next generation for years to come.
“King Richard” tells the story of Venus and Serena’s upbringing, and the influence their father, Richard Williams, on their lives and their careers. Beautifully shot and expertly written, the film follows the sisters as they transition from family training to official and professional training and ultimately the dawn of Venus’s professional career.
Richard, portrayed in the film by Will Smith (“Ali”), was a constant presence in his children’s lives as he helped them hone their craft, develop as both people and players and begin their professional careers.
Richard might not have been a perfect father, but he was one who undoubtedly wanted the best for his children. Despite the questions that have arisen about his overbearing nature, the film casts a favorable light on Richard’s role as their trainer.
The Williams family were heavily involved in the production of “King Richard” and worked tirelessly to maintain honesty in the portrayal of both their father and their family life. Despite this, the classic trope of a father too involved and too pushy in his children’s athletic life shines through, but with enough nuance and truly heartfelt and caring moments to give a balance and humanity to the film. You can say what you want about his methods, but in this film, Richard Williams truly loved and cared for his daughters.
Smith’s portrayal of Richard in this film is a tour-de-force. Despite a career that very few actors could match, this is easily one of Smith’s most powerful performances to date, and an Oscar nomination could be on the horizon.
The rest of the cast also provided incredibly nuanced and powerful performances. Aunjanue Ellis (“Men of Honor”) provides a strong partner for Smith’s Richard in the role of Oracene Price, Venus and Serena’s mother. Despite the film following Richard and the sisters more closely, Ellis’s performance alters the film from a sports story to a story about family.
And that is the real soul of the film. During the course of the film, the two up-and-coming tennis stars (and especially Venus) are pushed quickly into this world of pressure, hype and media attention and the family is forced to cope and adjust. Richard and Oracene hold the family together and navigate the treacherous waters of fame. Stars of the film will be names to remember, with Saniyya Sidney (“Hidden Figures”) and Demi Singleton (“The Lion King” on Broadway) playing the roles of Venus and Serena respectively. As with the characters they portray, stepping into such a high-profile film and high-profile roles comes with a great deal of pressure, but the two young actors shine regardless. The amount of the work that they put into the film was extraordinary, as, on top of all the acting work, the two needed to learn to play tennis in the iconic style of two of the game’s most iconic players. And Sidney did it all while playing with her non-dominant hand (she is left-handed and Venus is right-handed).
When watching this film the audience can easily feel the closeness of the Williams family and the drive and sacrifice exhibited by Venus, Serena, Oracene and Richard to achieve a seemingly impossible dream. The filmmakers made the effort to highlight the fact that in this case; unlike many situations with very driven parents, the ultimate impetus came from Venus and Serena themselves. No matter how hard Richard and the rest of the family worked, Venus and Serena worked harder and never complained.
“King Richard” is a beautiful portrayal of family and drive, and is definitely one of the most inspiring films of the year.