Words: Giulia Lombardo
February marks the beginning of the annual recurrence of Black History Month (for the US), we thought it was only fair to talk about the real, inspiring, and powerful story of true black excellence: ‘King Richard’. Director Reinaldo Marcus Green explores the story, the struggles, and the resilience of Serena and Venus Williams, and the sacrifices and the strength of their father, Richard Williams, played by Will Smith (‘The Pursuit of Happyness’, ‘The Fresh Prince of Bell-Air’). In addition to Smith – who won the Golden Globe for Best Actor after his performance as Richard – we find Aunjanue Ellis (‘Undercover Brother’, ‘Lovecraft Country’) as the mother of the girls, Oracene “Brandy” Williams; Saniyya Sidney (‘Fast Color’, ‘The Passage’) as Venus Williams; Demi Singleton (‘Goldy’, ‘Showbiz Kids’) as Serena Williams. Tony Goldwyn (‘Scandal’, ‘Ghost’) as coach Paul Cohen and Jon Bernthal (‘The Punisher’, ‘Daredevil’) as coach Rick Macci. The cast also includes Andy Bean (‘Swamp Thing’, ‘It: Chapter 2), Kevin Dunn (‘Small Soldiers’, ‘VEEP’), and Craig Tate (‘Lycan’, ‘Black as Night’).
Tennis is secular, but it has always been aimed to the American community of Anglo-Saxon origin, without really caring to involve African Americans. This is until Richard Williams came along, with a revolution carried out by a man who had a plan. From the moment his daughters were born, he wrote a 78-pages plan for which he would build, from a cottage in a degraded black neighbourhood in Compton, a radiant future for them. This saw Venus and Serena become the best tennis players in the world. However, ‘King Richard’ does not really get too much into Venus and Serena’s characters, or the rise to fame through their eyes, but it is all about the strength and the “right” amount of madness it took for Richard Williams to carry out his famous plan.
The movie narrates how the Williams family reaches their ultimate goal, through an incomprehensible yet effective balance between the controversial and unpredictable Richard and the wisdom of his wife Oracene. Venus, precocious talent trained in the public courts of Compton by her father, together with her sister Serena. Younger but even more predestined, as she gained revolutionary success in the history of tennis. Facing many struggles, from racism to poverty, the family manages to fight with everything they have to make it. However, who really pushes through every inconvenience, through every “no”, to every door slammed in his face, is Richard. He starts by begging every tennis coach in the area to teach his kids for free, and despite being rejected repeatedly, he manages to get what he wants through perseverance. From there, Richard’s plan starts to become reality.
About Richard, one wouldn’t really know what to think; a brave and determined father or a madman? He’s a strange character, constantly risking to lose the balance between liberalism and keeping an iron fist. His thirst for emancipation and need for integration, alternative way of thinking and respect for the rules are all things that, in some ways, make Richard a mirror of that nineties America, of that American Dream. This was narrated in the film with discretion and without a cliché kind of drama. On one hand, you see how a father’s determination has no limits when it comes to making his kids’ dreams come true; but on the other hand you wonder, whose dream is this? Is it really his daughters’ dream or is it Richard’s obsession?
Overall, ‘King Richard’ is a great movie, that with great accuracy depicts a clear image of what was Venus and Serena’s rise to fame and success, and what – or who – made them become who they are today. Together with a father with a plan to make his two daughters the best tennis players ever; ‘King Richard’ is a biopic about the Williams sisters and their father, about tennis and the desire to emerge – for whatever reason, it being a dream or a profound fixation – at all costs.