King Richard: A Champion of a Film



King Richard 2021

Venus and Serena Williams are legends of the tennis world. The story of their revolutionary breakthrough into the elite sport is depicted in the film “King Richard”—titled after their eccentric father, the controversial yet unsung force behind their success. 

The story revolves around Richard Williams (Will Smith), the eccentric father of tennis legends Serena (Demi Singleton) and Venus Williams (Saniyya Sidney). Set in suburban Compton, California, the film details the level of dedication Williams had in cultivating the two prodigies into undeniable, pro-level talent. Between writing a “78-page plan for their whole career” before they were even born, training them in public courts every night despite rain and storms, and pitching his daughters to every well-reputed tennis coach in the area, Williams spared no effort in paving the path for his family to escape the drugs and violence in their community and to gain respect. “This world ain’t never had no respect for Richard Williams,” he says in the film. “But they going to respect y’all.”

Finally, when a coach agrees to work with Venus and Serena for free, Williams’ plan is really set in motion. From there on, the film follows Venus’s journey to the professional level—and every step Richard takes beside her. It’s a long journey, and though he doesn’t always agree with how everyone else sees things, Richard eventually realizes that he has to let his daughters make their own decisions. The film closes on the note of Venus’s triumph—not as a winner of the tournament, but as a breakthrough in the professional sport of tennis and a trailblazer for hundreds of thousands of Black female athletes to come—-including her younger sister, Serena. 

When it comes to the acting in this film, Will Smith, Saniyya Sidney, Demi Singleton, and Aunjanue Ellis (who plays Oracene, Richard’s wife) put forth a tremendous performance; it’s as if they melted into the characters. The screenplay and direction never fail to keep the story captivating and energizing, always light-handed even during emotional moments. 

Furthermore, Sidney and Singleton took tennis training for a year to prepare for their roles, and their efforts paid off. The action shots in the film are completely believable and genuinely impressive.

However, though both the Williams sisters (the real athletes, not the actresses) and the producers of “King Richard” expressed that they intended the film to show the public a broader perspective of Richard’s misunderstood character, a major critique of the film is that it focuses too little on the athletes themselves. Surely, looking at this story from the viewpoint of Venus and/or Serena would warrant deeper insight into their experiences as children who, essentially, are their family’s ticket to prosperity. Venus and Serena are the ones who toiled to live up to their father’s plan, to achieve excellence. They carried the pressure of representing Black women in a White-dominant sport, and most importantly, they won—again and again and again and again. They are widely recognized as the greatest tennis players in history, and viewing the story of how they came to be so through their own eyes would be priceless. 

But despite this critique, “King Richard” has earned its place as an Oscar contender, and just as genuinely good storytelling. At the heart of this film are the values of the Williams family, which shine through the cracks of their truthful and flawed depiction. Family, resilience, respect, confidence: these concepts are undoubtedly vital to Venus and Serena’s success. The film electrifies viewers with inspiration in the most heartfelt, sincere way. 

“King Richard” prods viewers to connect with their own values and to view themselves with the same potential and respect that Richard encouraged his daughters to. It leaves the audience with the feeling that with enough planning, determination, and confidence, we too can achieve our own definition of greatness.