Later this year, a new biopic featuring Will Smith as the father of tennis champions Venus and Serena Williams will be released in theatres.
In “King Richard,” we’ll meet the sisters when they were younger and just starting on their path to professional sports glory. But make no mistake: this is not a movie about Venus and Serena (played by Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton). It’s about their father, Richard, and the effort he made to help them become the champions they are today.
The film recounts the journey of Richard Williams, “an undaunted father involved in producing two of the most incredibly brilliant sportsmen of all time,” according to Warner Bros.
In the teaser, he claims, “I prepared a 78-page blueprint for their whole career before they were even conceived.” The remainder of the two-and-a-half-minute teaser offers us a glimpse of what will undoubtedly be some outstanding performances from an all-star ensemble cast that includes Aunjanue Ellis (Lovecraft Country), Tony Goldwyn (Scandal), and Jon Bernthal (The Walking Dead).
However, as many people on social media have pointed out, the “King Richard” teaser appears to place little emphasis on the ladies’ personal opinions on that time in their lives. We only get to hear from them in one little snippet, which, coupled with the film’s title, indicates its direction. Because this is the first narrative film to explore the Williams sisters’ background, it’s reasonable to wonder why the narrative focuses on Richard rather than the sisters themselves. However, the Williams sisters are on board with this perspective since Venus and Serena Williams and their sister Isha Price are executive producers of the film. (For those interested, Venus and Serena have documentary projects sharing their personal experiences.)
When people talk about “Girl Dads,” they don’t only mean fathers of girls, but also men who are carving out space and deconstructing patriarchal institutions so that their daughters may thrive. There is no disputing the pivotal and “unconventional” role Richard Williams had in the development of Venus and Serena’s careers, as well as his efforts to smooth their pathways in the racist and sexist world of sports. His early determination to turn them into champions (the sisters were reportedly seen carrying tennis rackets in their strollers while their parents played). To the many sacrifices, both he and the girls made to accomplish that goal; it’s clear that he was devoted to their success, whatever the cost.
Practices would begin as early as 6 a.m. and would last till late at night. Richard has spoken of having to battle off gangs that would monitor the Compton courts where the girls needed to train. One such event left him with fractured ribs, and ten teeth knocked out, which appears to be shown in the film’s trailer. In his 2014 biography, he said, “To this day, [I] wear my ‘toothlessness’ as a badge of courage.”
Aside from sportsmanship, Richard was acutely aware of the world his daughters were entering and the ways society would attempt to knock down two small Black girls from Compton, despite (or perhaps because of) their superior athletic talent.
Richard quickly knocked down correspondent John McKenzie, the white male interviewer who sought to challenge Venus’ confidence as a youngster, in footage from a rediscovered 1995 ABC News Day One interview with Venus going viral online since 2015. “You’re dealing with the image of a 14-year-old,” Richard said furiously as he stormed onto the stage, interrupting the filmed interview. “You’re dealing with a small Black kid, and you’ve got to let her be a kid.”
And it’s moments like this that make “King Richard” so exciting.
The film King Richard will be released in theatres on November 19.