There is no denying that Venus and Serena Williams are two of the greatest tennis players of all time, but how did two little girls from Compton rise to such greatness? In King Richard, we see that the answer lies in their family, their attitudes, and especially their father, Richard.
Played by Will Smith, Richard Williams is a father first and a coach second. At first glance, he looks like the most embarrassing dad to ever walk down a Compton sidewalk in his short shorts and his relentlessly positive can-do attitude. He works nights and then pours his time into training his daughters, rain or shine, on the run-down tennis courts in their neighborhood. He protects his daughters from the gangs and older boys checking them out, even suffering a few brutal beatings from the gangs. Richard records video on their early 90s camcorder of Venus and Serena in hopes of getting the girls a professional coach. Even when he does get the girls a coach, Richard makes sure he is in charge and puts his girls happiness first, often to the dismay of the coach. And as Venus and Serena gain more attention, Richard protects his daughters in any way he can. One of my favorite moments is when Richard stops an interview, just naturally swoops in and unapologetically ends it, not to embarrass his daughter but to protect her.
The one thing that really sticks with me after seeing King Richard is how the Williams family is always positive. I cannot recall a single negative word spoken within the family and this is such a stark comparison when we see little white girls at competitions throwing down their rackets saying, “I suck!” While training, at competitions or in their little home, where the four girls share one room, the family regards each other with only warm words and there is never an absence of positive affirmations. Even though they could be rivals we never see the daughters fight, and that is refreshing. Even when the parents found out that young Serena had secretly signed herself up to compete and I was sure that girl was in trouble, her parents were right there to support her, encouraging her to finish what she started and have fun.
The film does not let us forget that the Williams family is at a disadvantage for simply being black. At tennis competitions at swanky country clubs, the Williams family sticks out like sore thumbs and they know it. At one point Richard tells his family, “Can’t be the only black people here and be late!” When a girl tries to cheat in a tennis match against Venus, the family does not call it out, but simply rises above it, calling it “a little adversity.” And the relentlessly positive Richard even tells the girls who lose to his daughters to be proud of themselves,
King Richard is nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Picture, film editing, original screenplay and best original song (Be Alive by Beyoncé). Will Smith is nominated for best lead actor for his portrayal of Richard. And Aunjanue Ellis has earned her first Oscar nomination in her supporting role as Oracene ‘Brandy’ Williams.
King Richard is one of those inspirational sports films that you want to show to kids. Some might look at Richard’s extreme training for his girls as too much, but the results don’t lie. Venus and Serena are amazing athletes and wonderful role models. It’s great to help encourage a budding athlete to see two young black girls from a rough neighborhood excel beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. Except these dreams weren’t wild, they were just Richard’s dreams. And he makes us all proud of his daughters.
“The most strongest, the most powerful, the most dangerous creature on this whole earth is a woman who knows how to think. Ain’t nothing she can’t do.”