One hour and 59 minutes into the film, Venus Williams (played by Saniyya Sidney) prepares to play at the 1994 Oakland’s Bank of the West Classic tennis tournament against the number one tennis player in the world and reigning US Open Champion, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario (Marcella Zacarías). Her silhouette approaches the camera with her signature white beads as the main focus of the scene. Richard Williams (Will Smith) watches her with compassionate eyes awaiting his plan to come to light. King Richard tells the story of the two top ranked tennis players in the world through the eyes of a patriarch determined to fight adversity with love and compassion at the core.
Will Smith Dominates Both In Front Of And Behind The Camera
The film opens up with Richard as he travels to various tennis clubs to find a professional coach for Venus and Serena. The tight tennis shorts, scruffy facial hair and Louisiana accent transforms Smith into Richard. He tells HBO, “I’ve done stories about people’s lives in the past and you realize there’s only one audience. It’s the family.” As the leading man and a producer, Smith did not want to attach himself to King Richard unless he got the family on board. Venus, Serena and their half sister Isha Price received executive producer credits. Their other half sister, Lyndrea Price, aided in the recreation of the 90s outfits each character wore. With their help, Smith humanized a man, “in the business of raising champions.”
Aunjanue Ellis Epitomizes Motherhood
Aunjanue Ellis captivates in the role of Oracene “Brandy” Williams (now Price). As the girls’ mother, she takes on the voice of reason in the Williams household using a plethora of emotions. Whether she twitches her eye to display disagreement, sheds a tear to soften a scene or expresses warmth through her full faced smile, she moves anyone watching her. Ellis states, “What you see, in terms of a family on screen, was a reflection of what was actually really happening. When I was doing those scenes with them, there wasn't a lot of acting involved. It was just letting them be who they were.” Ellis illustrates Price’s everlasting support for her daughters as well as the driving force behind their greatness.
Black Girls Women See Themselves Through Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton
Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton inspire as they portray Venus and Serena. They morphed into tennis prodigies for this role and illustrate the love the real sisters share. These budding powerhouses understood the root of Venus and Serena’s bond: nurture, care and support. Ellis tells HBO, “those girls fell in love with each other…they were sisters.” We don’t often see young dark-skinned actresses rocking their twists and beaded braids on screen. We’re inspired by the Williams sisters' story, but we’re also inspired by the actresses taking on pivotal and powerful roles. They light up the little Black girl in all of us.
The Film Artistically Crafts The Environment Of 1980s Compton
The Williams family lived in Compton, California in the 1980s when police brutality and gang violence ran rampant. The family sits around the table reading an article about Venus’ success at the Juniors matches. As the girls rave about Venus with glee, the CNN coverage of the Rodney King beatings play in the background. We also see the family walk into tennis tournaments as the white families stare at them. King Richard juxtaposes Venus and Serena’s rise to the top with the racial undertones of the time, emphasizing the strength it takes to achieve the American Dream.
Richard And Brandy Filled Their Girls With Confidence
Some critics of the film saw King Richard as a movie that took away from Venus and Serena’s story. Telling the story from Richard’s point of view does not steal their spotlight, it gives us its source. It’s not just the reputable coaches, the long hours of training and unwavering dedication that made these women amazing players. It’s the love both Richard and Brandy consistently poured into the two of them, providing them the confidence to dominate a once all white sport. The story needs to be told through Richard’s eyes, we deserve to see the story of the ultimate Girl Dad.
I laughed, cried and screamed throughout the film as if the real Williams sisters grew into greats in front of me. A story of tenacity, humility and love at the center of it all, King Richard is a must see.