King Richard – With Family Anything is Possible 

Special Guest Writer: Black Pistachio

“King Richard” directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green and produced by Venus and Serena Williams is a celebration of the Black family, Black fatherhood and Black Girl Magic. The film serves as a biographical drama detailing the journey to tennis superstardom for Venus and Serena Williams due in large part to their eccentric and ambitious father, Richard Williams.

Richard Williams (Will Smith) is eccentric, ambitious and obsessed. He states: ‘’When I’m interested in a thing I learn it. How it works, how the best peoples in the world do it’’. We see Richard devouring every piece of tennis information that he can get his hands on and his knowledge of the key figures is impressive. However, what is truly astonishing is The Plan; the detailed manual he has written that predicts exactly what he wants Venus (Sanniya Sidney) and Serena (Demi Singleton) to achieve as tennis stars. It is this Plan that Richard refuses to deviate from and as the story unfolds its significance is undeniable.

“King Richard” is a celebration of the Black family, Black fatherhood and Black Girl Magic.”

Will Smith, Saniyya Sidney, and Demi Singleton in King Richard (2021) | Photo Courtesy of IMDB

One of the functions of systemic racism is to keep Black people out of white spaces. Richard parades the girls in front of prospective coaches with the charm and enthusiasm of a second-hand cars salesman. But despite Venus and Serena’s talent and Richard’s determination securing professional coaching proves to be a struggle. Fortunately, Paul Cohen (Tony Goldwyn) takes a chance on Venus but this leaves Serena on the metaphorical bench. Eventually, it becomes clear that more resources are needed to achieve the Williams sisters’ full potential but the first offer with a sports agent comes with strings attached and one of those strings warrants internalising anti-Blackness – something Richard immediately rejects.

One of the admirable things about “King Richard” is it shows how important Venus and Serena’s wellbeing is. The interview scene where a reporter tries to diminish a 14 year old Venus (Sanniya Sidney) is a verbatim re-enactment of the real interview from the early 90s. Smith re-enacts this scene with an impassioned delivery that rivals the real Richard Williams. It forces the audience to question why an interviewer seeks to tear down a 14 year old child and it implies that the cost of success will not come at the expense Venus’ self-esteem.

The representation of Black girls and Black women in “King Richard” is satisfying and feels personal. The Williams sisters are talented and performing at a high level academically and spiritually under their parents’ leadership. Black women are frequently hypersexualised and brutalised in film for the sake of drama but “King Richard” is a welcome breath of fresh air and reminds viewers that there are positive stories of Black girlhood left to tell. The sisters are close and their innocence is heart-warming to watch, for example, as they can be heard singing in the background as their parents contemplate their future.

Will Smith, Aunjanue Ellis, Mikayla Lashae Bartholomew, Saniyya Sidney, Daniele Lawson, and Demi Singleton in King Richard (2021) | Photo Courtesy of IMDB

“The representation of Black girls and Black women in “King Richard” is satisfying and feels personal…Black women are frequently hypersexualised and brutalised in film for the sake of drama but “King Richard” is a welcome breath of fresh air.”

Their mother, Oracene ‘Brandy’ Williams (Aunjanue L. Ellis) is a nurse and trains Serena (Demi Singleton) when she cannot secure free coaching. There’s a sense that Brandy’s contribution is underappreciated but King Richard shows that their ascent within the tennis world would not have been possible without her. She supports Richard, she trains Serena and she encourages the girls to make autonomous decisions. Brandy is the antithesis of who Richard is. Her self-worth does not hinge on external factors or recognition. This makes her confident and self-assured. Ellis gives a strong and emotional performance as Brandy where she acts as the voice of reason and forces Richard to confront his egotism and myopic view of his role in their success. It is a joint effort and Brandy’s parenting and guidance must be acknowledged, too. ‘’I don’t need the world to tell me I’m great’’ ‘’I answer to something higher than Richard Williams’’. Richard is not a God in their house, nor should he be. This scene slows the movie down and forces the audience to question Richard’s true motives through the person who knows him best, his wife. This is Richard at his most vulnerable, Brandy taps into his self-doubt and we understand that there is more at stake than just a trophy or a title.

Will Smith, Saniyya Sidney, and Demi Singleton in King Richard (2021) | Photo Courtesy of IMDB

“King Richard” has strong parallels with the Jackson 5 “American Dream” TV film. The key difference is that Richard led Venus and Serena with love not fear. In contrast, Joseph Jackson was infamous for his abusive leadership style, but Richard is tender with his children. He is focused on their education and maintaining some semblance of a childhood. He recognised the danger of blind ambition, the risks that come with rapid success and he is resolute in avoiding these pitfalls. ‘’The junior circuit is worse than the ghetto’’ and no amount of convincing from famous tennis coach Rick Macci (expertly played by Jon Bernthal) will convince him otherwise. There’s a reoccurring theme of the threat of lost opportunity but Richard is adamant that this ‘’winda’’ they insist will soon close is of no consequence as they intend to ‘’walk through the front door’’.

“Beyoncé’s Alive accompanies the credits and it’s a great closing song – a pure celebration of Black excellence and staying true to one’s own values and style.”

The cinematography is warm and the use of colour creates a vibrant world in 80s Compton. One key scene is slowed down and we get to focus on Venus’ (Sanniya Sidney’s) pretty face, the white beads in her hair, the vastness of the stadium and this moment solidifies how far she has come. There are royal signifiers throughout the film and the camera forces us to focus on Richard’s humble roots. The Volkswagen van operates as the family royal carriage as they travel up and down the country. Richard is a prince who intends to dominate the tennis world and eventually become a king. Kris Bowers is responsible for the beautiful score and those hopeful violins fill one with excitement and emotion.

The montage of Richard’s home video recordings adds realism. We appreciate even more the authenticity of the film, the close family bonds and the emotional rollercoaster of their journey as a family. Beyoncé’s Alive accompanies the credits and it’s a great closing song – a pure celebration of Black excellence and staying true to one’s own values and style. Richard stayed true to his Plan, as a family they hustled and sacrificed. King Richard is a celebration and a reminder that with family anything is possible.

A massive thank you to Black Pistachio for her wonderful piece. You can follow her on Twitter here. And find her excellent blog here.

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