‘King Richard’: An embodiment of the American dream

Sophia Yang, Senior Staff Writer

King Richard' Trailer: Beyonce Teases New Song “Be Alive” – The Hollywood Reporter
Richard Williams (Will Smith) and the rest of his family go to his daughter Venus Williams’ (Saniyya Sidney) first Juniors’ tennis tournament. (Photo: HBO Max)

A sports biopic about a father’s desire to make his two daughters tennis stars, “King Richard—”, directed by Reinaldo Marcus Greene, details Serena and Venus Williams’ journey to become two of the greatest tennis players in history.

Prior to the birth of his daughters, Richard Williams (Will Smith) formulates a plan to raise the two to stardom and make history. The movie is filled with a sense of his urgency as the elder Venus Williams (Saniyya Sidney) is chosen over her sister Serena Williams (Demi Singleton) and gradually makes her ascent in the tennis community.

A Compton man of humble roots, Richard was deprived of the chance to fulfill his own dreams, leading to him pushing his hopes onto his daughters. Loud, brash, and opinionated, Richard is the driving force behind his daughters’ strict practice regiments and tireless search for coaches. 

The film starts with family practices at run-down tennis courts in their neighborhood, as the Williams’ financial situation dictates their inability to afford professional training. As Venus and Serena demonstrate increasing prowess, Richard begins to feverishly search for a coach, handing out brochures and explaining his plan to many, only to be turned aside time and time again.

The hindsight of the viewers is what makes the film itself so great; if anyone were to be approached in the moment and convinced by a man that his daughters were to be the next Mozarts of tennis, they would laugh in disbelief. Smith is a critical component to the uplifting message of the story as he embodies Richard’s determination and spirit down to his Compton accent.

As the movie progresses, Richard finds a coach only willing to take on Venus. With more professional coaching, she improves exponentially and begins participating in juniors tournaments, placing first with ease every time. 

After years of hard work and dedicated training, the movie climaxes with Venus playing the best tennis player in the world: Arantxa Sánchez-Vicario. 

Throughout the movie, Richard’s stubborn nature often clashes with the opinions of coaches. His decisions are unconventional, and never once does the movie imply the possibility of them being wrong.

His refusal to sign with agents after one of them comments about his background, and later making the controversial decision to withdraw Venus from all Junior’s tournaments illustrates his notably unorthodox coaching style.

Being a tribute to Richard, the film never outwardly criticizes him for his seemingly rash decisions, but still effectively conveys his flaws. Richard constantly struggles to balance giving his daughters a normal life while attempting to push them further, at times causing familial strife. 

Smith does a fantastic job of capturing the heart and soul of Richard: a formidable man wounded by his past. His stubbornness and pride can be attributed to insecurities regarding past vulnerabilities. Much of what sets this film apart from typical sports biopics is Richard’s unpredictable personality and its influence on his daughters’ unique rise to glory.

Cinematographer Robert Elswith is no doubt talented at directing dramas, as the highlights of the film were Richard’s interactions with family and coaches. However, the tennis sequences are repetitive at times, and for a non-player, it is difficult to discern the improvement in skill across all of the shots. Otherwise, Greene’s work in the technical aspects of lighting, color schemes, and music is incredibly well done. From washed-out colors of the neighborhood courts to the spotlights at the Bank of the West Classic, the cinematography ensures an engaging experience throughout.

The movie places heavy emphasis on Richard paving the way for other African Americans in addition to his daughters, and the challenges he surmounts throughout the process. His family’s rags to riches story is incredibly inspiring, and the movie is well-deserving of its six Academy Award nominations and five Oscar nominations.

With little to no shortcomings, ‘King Richard’ is a fantastic encapsulation of the American dream, showing the world how one man’s iron will led his family to rise from a poverty-stricken past and dominate a sport of privilege.

“King Richard”

2 hours 24 minutes

Rated PG-13

Directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green

Starring Will Smith, Aunjanue Ellis, Saniyya Sidney, Demi Singleton, Tony Goldwyn, and Jon Bernthal.