King Richard

King Richard

King Richard is part biopic and part story. While the biopic focuses on the story of Richard Williams, a middle-aged black man from Compton, California; the film tells the story of two of the sporting world's greats – Venus and Serena Williams.

Richard Williams is a planner. Right from the time they are born, Richard has a detailed, written plan for how his daughters are going to make it to the top in the world of tennis. He is a meticulous and disciplined man. This lends itself well to his single-pointed focus of grooming his daughters into tennis stars – the first ever black girls in what was an all-white sport at the time.

He is relentless. Tennis is a technical sport. It requires tremendous financial resources to enable access to top coaches, training facilities etc.; things that were out of reach for a black man in the late 80s in Compton. Despite this, Richard wants to make sure he does everything possible to make his dreams a reality. During the day, he goes out with photocopied pamphlets and home-videos about his daughters, pitching to coaches to give them a shot because they have talent – that they did indeed. He is a shrewd negotiator. He knows what he wants and he could talk his way to get it. But he is also brash – he does not mince his words and tells people exactly what he thinks they need to hear.

Richard is a hustler. He has no formal tennis training himself. He studies the sport from wherever he can – radio shows, commentaries, magazines etc. and then trains his children himself. Richard is patient and cautious. He makes some decisions on behalf of his daughters that were quite controversial in the sporting world at the time - they were barred from participating in formal tournaments till he felt they were ready. He believed that they needed to do good at school in order to do good at tennis. That it would prepare them for what was to come - when they entered the sport as the first ever black girls to do so. He knew that his daughters would go on to inspire countless others and he needed them to be ready for it.

For all his merits, Richard was stubborn, self-centred and opinionated. But always had the best intentions for his daughters at heart. Richard’s character in the film is played by Will Smith, who comes across brilliantly on screen, bringing his character’s quirks to life. The other members of the cast including Aunjanue Ellis who plays the girls’ mother Oracene ‘Brandy’ Price, Demi Singleton and Saniyya Sidney who portray Serena and Venus Williams respectively have equally made their presence felt.

Over the years, Richard has been quite the controversial courtside character in the tennis world. In his heyday, the media called him out to be a thorn in the tennis world’s side. Through this film, we get to see glimpses of this behaviour, albeit with a justification. And we often hear him narrating stories from his childhood. He grew up in Louisiana at a time when racism was prevalent. It’s interesting to see his attempts to protect his children, but also prepare them for the future.

To talk about origins, young Venus and Serena did put in the time and effort. They believed in the dream their parents had shown them and were grooming them for. Their trust and surrender in their parents’ plan, dedication and above all, love for the sport is what got them to where they needed to be.

The tennis scenes aren’t particularly exciting or gripping, but the family drama, Richard’s quirky character and his parenting style could certainly invoke some reflection. King Richard is a film for the entire family to enjoy together!

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Chinmaya Udghosh