A new biopic starring Will Smith as the father of tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams is on its way to movie theatres.
In King Richard, we’ll get to see the sisters in their younger years as they began their journey to pro sports success. But make no mistake, this isn’t a film about Venus and Serena (played by Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton). It's a story about their father, Richard, and the work he did to help make them the champions that they are today.
According to Warner Bros., the film follows the journey of Richard Williams, “an undeterred father instrumental in raising two of the most extraordinarily gifted athletes of all time.” Watch the trailer:
“I wrote a 78-page plan for their whole career before they were even born,” he declares in the trailer. The rest of the two-and-a-half minute teaser gives us a peek into what will undoubtedly be some stellar performances from an all-star ensemble cast including Aunjanue Ellis (Lovecraft Country), Tony Goldwyn (Scandal) and Jon Bernthal (The Walking Dead).
But like many on social media have noted, the “King Richard” trailer suggests very little focus on the girls’ own perspectives on that period in their lives. We only get to hear from them in one brief snippet, which--along with the film’s title--shows what direction the film will take. Because this is the first narrative film that will address the history of the Williams’ sisters, it’s fair to question why the narrative centres on Richard rather than the sisters themselves. But the Williams sisters are on board with this angle, considering that Venus and Serena, as well as their sister Isha Price serve as executive producers of the film. (For those who may want to watch them, Venus and Serena have documentary projects telling their personal stories).
When people talk about “Girl Dads,” it’s not just about men who are fathers to daughters, but men who are carving out space and dismantling patriarchal systems in order for their daughters to thrive. There’s no denying the crucial and “unconventional” role Richard Williams played in the formation of Venus and Serena's careers and the efforts he made to smooth their paths in the racist and sexist world of sports. From his dogged determination to turn them into champions from an early age (the sisters were reportedly seen holding tennis rackets in their strollers while their parents played) to the many sacrifices both he and the girls made to achieve that goal, it’s clear that he was committed to their success, no matter what the cost was.
Practices would start as early as 6 am and would continue after school until late. Richard has talked about having to fight off gangs who would patrol the Compton courts where the girls needed space to practice. One such incident left him with broken ribs and 10 teeth knocked out, a moment that’s seemingly depicted in the film’s trailer. “To this day [I] wear my 'toothlessness' as a badge of courage,” he wrote in his 2014 memoir.
But aside from the sportsmanship itself, Richard also had a keen awareness of the world his daughters were entering into, and the ways that society would try to bring down two little Black girls from Compton, despite (or maybe even because of) their superior athletic ability.
In a clip from a resurfaced 1995 ABC News Day One interview with Venus that’s been going viral online since 2015, Richard swiftly shut down correspondent John McKenzie, the white male interviewer who tried to question Venus' confidence as a child. “You’re dealing with the image of a 14-year-old” Richard said angrily, walking on to the set and interrupting the videotaped interview. “You dealing with a little Black kid, and let her be a kid.”
And it’s moments like this that make “King Richard” so highly anticipated.