Movies & TV

King Richard Is a Family Film, and a Damn Good One

Watch it with your whole family.
IMAGE WARNER BROS.

Could there be a greater pair of siblings in the history of sports than Venus and Serena Williams? The pair have won a staggering 122 singles titles between them as well as 22 doubles titles and 3 gold medals. Serena is arguably the greatest athlete of all time, man or woman, in any sport. It isn’t Tom Brady, it isn’t Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods, and it sure as hell isn’t tennis legend Roger Federer. He’ll tell you himself that the GOAT is Serena ‘Momma Smash’ Williams. 

Venus is no slouch either, of course. Older than Serena by a year, Venus was the first Williams sibling to make waves in the tennis world, breaking records and getting lucrative endorsement deals that were the first of its kind. Both Williams sisters, the greatest players in tennis and the most phenomenal sports siblings in history, are two of the most outstanding women of all time. 

So, wondering why the film King Richard is all about their father is a pretty fair question. The good news is, and let’s get this out of the way: King Richard is an absolutely wonderful film that’s perfect for the whole family. In fact, there probably isn’t any other way to watch it than with your entire family because if there’s anything that you’ll learn from the film, it’s that the Williamses put family first.

Sports parents are a dime-a-dozen. There is no shortage of stories about self-promoting, controversial parents who have molded their children into athletes. One day, but hopefully never, we might eventually even see a biopic of LaVar Ball. Richard Williams was kind of the LaVar Ball of his time, rubbing people the wrong way, saying what sounded like the wrong things, and generally getting bad press for how he molded his two daughters into tennis superstars. Richard was vilified by a press and tennis community that couldn’t wrap its head around a black family dominating a predominantly white sport.

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King Richard is the Williams’ family’s way of taking back control of the narrative, working closely with screenwriter Zach Baylin and director Reinaldo Marcus Green to show a family dynamic that is remarkable not merely for its uniqueness but that (most of) it isn’t fiction. 

The myth of the absentee black father is pervasive and won’t go away with one film about an exceptionally committed dad, but it does go a long way into showing how the Williams siblings overcame the adversity of growing up in their Compton neighborhood through Richard’s perseverance and planning.

A slightly tweaked Benjamin Franklin quote—"If you fail to plan, you plan to fail”—written in large letters with a marker, is basically the Williams’ family motto. Richard famously wrote up an 85-page plan (bafflingly truncated to 78 in the film) for his daughters before they were even born, detailing how the two would reach the very pinnacle of the sport. 

And who would believe him? It was a bold claim for a black man from Shreveport, Louisiana who knew nothing about tennis and had never played professionally or in any competitive capacity. Certainly not in Compton, where nobody played tennis and where the Williamses were constantly harassed by young black men who didn’t quite understand that greatness was blooming right in front of them. 

Will Smith turns in an impressive performance as the man with a plan, the Williams patriarch who, along with his wife Oracene (Aunjanue Ellis), made considerable sacrifices to give their children a future. The Williams’ focus on education despite parenting gifted athletes is one of the key points of the story. While his children’s peers were competing in the Junior circuit and some turning pro, Richard’s decision to allow his children to enjoy their childhood was criticized.

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It was important for the Williams sisters that this story be told. While the whole world may know Serena and Venus, what happens behind the scenes—the Williams family dynamic—is just as important. It’s easy to love the Williams sisters as champions and style icons, their instantly recognizable faces plastered on billboards and window displays. But what they’ve achieved and how far they’ve come is magnified when put in context. 

Like most black families in America, the Williams family had fewer opportunities, limited resources, and dealt with casual racism on a daily basis. Richard knew what was at stake. When he designed his plan, he knew that that Venus and Serena would bear the inconceivable burden of representing their gender and their race. It wasn’t just ambition, it was vision. Richard Williams envisioned his girls changing the world. 

Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton play Venus and Serena, and the pure joy of their friendship is palpable and infectious. Even though the sisters are fierce rivals on the court, they’re the best of friends off it. King Richard shows us the foundation of that friendship, however engineered it may have been in the beginning. Venus and Serena were, after all, literally born to play tennis.

When Richard Williams realized how much money there was to be made in professional tennis, he and Oracene decided to have two more children specifically for the purpose of training them for the sport as soon as they could walk. The concept seems bonkers, but the fact that it actually worked is even more so.

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King Richard is heartwarming and inspiring, a perfect family movie, arguably even one that should be required viewing. Not every family can have a plan for world domination, but we all could certainly learn a thing or two from a family that had one and executed it to perfection.

King Richard is in theaters now.

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About The Author
Hugo Zacarias Yonzon IV
Zach Yonzon is a cake artist and co-owner of Bunny Baker
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