Will Smith serves up a true Ace as Richard Williams in this heartfelt true story of the driving force behind the legendary tennis champions
King Richard is an ode to all the so called “pushy parents” who in some cases actually push in the right direction. This isn’t a Venus and Serena biopic, it’s the Richard Williams step by step guide to manifesting yourself and your family from ghetto to grandeur. Repeated Mantra’s such as “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail” and “she knows who she is” will make you want to start that vision board, and practice daily affirmations.
The film is directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green and stars Will Smith as Richard, Aunjanue Ellis as Brandy Willams, Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton as Venus and Serena Willams. With tennis being a white dominated sport, comments such as “have you tried basketball?”, the black sport vs white sport tropes being reinforced, and Richard being mocked when approaching potential tennis coaches, caused the film to be triggering at times.
Every time he or his girls walked into a country club or on the court you could hear the shuffles of discomfort, as viewers anticipated feeling the third hand embarrassment caused by yet another rejection. Reinaldo did not intend on making the viewer feel pity for Richard, Reinaldo successfully positioned us to understand Richard, to hope for him and laugh with him and to celebrate with him. Richard’s goal wasn’t driven solely by money, his goal was for his family and consequently all black people to be given and treated with the respect that they deserve
King Richard also featured as one of Novembers Most Wanted Movies here
Richard’s experiences of growing up being fearful of the Klan, experiencing the fists and feet of white supremacy, then watching his own father cower and run from “the white man” when he needed him the most, is reflected in his “over” protectiveness of all five of his daughters. He wanted to protect not only their dignity but unlike the Joseph Jacksons of the world he also wanted to protect their childhood.
Ultimately his efforts and persistently drilling into them that they were worthy, and entitled to everything the world could offer them, resulted in the “my daddy didn’t raise no fool” attitudes we saw in both Venus and Serena as children and that we continue to see in the Williams sisters today.
Richard was tough on his girls, he was hard- headed and believed that he always knew best. There are times in the film where you will want to shout at him to “shut up” and “but out”. He isn’t the easiest man to like on screen so you kind of have sympathy for those who had to deal with him in real life. I need to give a shout out to Tony Goldwyn and Jon Bernthal, who play Paul Cohen and Rick Macci, the patient and open-minded tennis coaches who believed in the girls, coached them for free and put up with the self-taught Richard undermining their skill and mastery.
He was infuriating to watch, so I dread to think what he was like to deal with even if it was just on screen. That said throughout the film you know that his heart is in the right place and that everything he does is for the love of his daughters.
Whether on or off the courts Richard constantly reminded his girls to “have fun” and Saniyya and Demi (who struck an uncanny resemblance to Serena), continually seemed to have fun in their roles as they should, having the opportunity to depict two of the greatest sports women of all time.
Will Smiths portrayal of Richard’s confidence, determination, vulnerability, and humour was honest and organic. We know Will; his come up, and how he became his own success story, so this role seemed like an effortless fit for him. His previous roles as the determined Dad in the Pursuit of Happyness, had us reaching for the Kleenex and this performance will do the same, so have a packet handy.
Aunjanue who we recognise from acclaimed films such as The Help and TV shows such as Designated Survivor, is perfectly cast as the supportive mother and wife, who stands by her man, and his plan, even though he mindlessly forgets to include her in his decision making. She isn’t afraid to give him her a piece of her mind. She too wants great things for her daughters and is just as driven and works with him to train them to be the best. Smith and Ellis together portray a husband and wife in love who rally their lives in order to ensure that their daughters futures are Game Set Match.
With the close of 2021 racing towards us, I can confidently declare that for me King Richard takes the Crown as film of the year.