There’s a famous Venus Williams interview from 1994. The interviewer is questioning Venus’ confidence when she said she could beat another tennis player. Richard Williams interrupts and tells the interviewer very passionately “You’ve got to understand that you’re dealing with the image of a 14-year old child. And this child is gonna be out there playing when your old ass and me gonna be in the grave. When she say something, we done told you what’s happening. You’re dealing with a little black kid, and let her be a kid. She done answered it with a lot of confidence. Leave that alone.” That 48 second clip is the full Richard Williams experience – a disrupter, a man willing to challenge the status quo, a loving father, someone that poured so much confidence into his children, and a man that understood what his black daughters would need to survive in this world.
King Richard chronicles the story of Richard Williams (Will Smith), a man only armed with his knowledge of tennis, his vision, and love of his daughters raised two of the most gifted athletes the world has ever seen and changed the game of tennis forever. The film focuses on Richards’s efforts to help a young Venus Williams (Saniyya Sidney) turn pro as well as training her younger sister Serena (Demi Singleton). They go from tennis courts in Compton California to training with legendary tennis coach Rick Macci (Jon Bernthal). The story builds up to Venus’ famous match against the #1 player in the world Arantxa Sanchez Vicario.
Will Smith gives the performance of his career as Richard Williams. It is an undeniable Oscar worthy performance and gives Smith his best shot at taking home an Oscar since The Pursuit of Happyness in 2006. Smith is able to embody everything that made Richard Williams a character, protector, and loving father.
Not to be outdone by Smith, Saniyya Sydney and Demi Singleton give excellent performances as young Venus and Serena. They are the glue that keeps this film together. These two young actors give star performances. We will be hearing a lot more of them in the near future.
The MVP of the film is Aunjanue Ellis as Oracene “Brandy” Price – the mother of Venus and Serena. Out of the dozen great scenes in the film, Ellis is responsible for at least six. She’s incredible as a loving mother and woman strong enough to deal with Richard and all the pressure that was coming to the family.
What makes King Richard so enjoyable is not seeing Venus and Serena grow up or the tennis tournaments, its the depiction of Richard Williams. It doesn’t shy away from how he rubbed people the wrong way, how unorthodox his tactics were, and ultimately how right he was. He was as intense as he was prophetic and the film shines a bright light on both.
One of the best scenes is when Richard and Venus have an intense discussion because she’s so eager to turn pro despite her father’s wishes. It’s motivational, emotional, and inspiring. Smith and Sydney give an incredible performance in just two minutes.
King Richard is a film about fatherhood and family disguised as a sports film. It’s one of the year’s best films with some of the year’s best performances. There are plenty of tennis scenes but it never lingers too long on the sports aspects, instead it focuses on Richard preparing his daughters for life, not just tennis. The iconic 1994 interview is recreated…and yes, I smiled just like I did the first time I watched it.