There is always a sense of nervousness that comes over me when I hear of a biopic about historical Black figures coming to theaters. These projects could be beautifully developed like Ray or the opposite could unfold (insert name of one of many horrible biopics here). When it comes to King Richard, I was delighted to see this film was not another lukewarm attempt. I know some skeptics may automatically think the movie stars, Will Smith, as the father of two sports icons (rolls eyes), then cringe at the thought of Wild Wild West. And let’s not forget how we were painfully subjected to the Michael Jackson biopic, Michael Jackson: Man in the Mirror. I’m happy to say this was not the case! I walked away quite satisfied with this film and have some notables you can check out for yourself.
Will Smith and Aunjanue Ellis Academy Buzz
Will Smith has been snubbed a few times at the Academy Awards, but he just may win this prestigious honor with his performance in King Richard. I found myself forgetting that Will Smith was portraying Richard William because of his fantastic performance. From mannerism to language, Smith captured the essence of Williams and even provoked some anger out of me during some of Richard’s questionable decision-making. The Richard character was compelling because he wanted the best for his children, he worked hard for them and loved them, but sometimes his insecurities got the best of him. His wife, Brandi Williams (Aunjanue Ellis), points out one of his biggest hang-ups in the film: he doesn’t want to seem like another dumb Black person to the world. It’s not easy writing a character the audience can cheer for and also be upset with, but the screenwriter and director do a great job tackling this dynamic. I found it especially intriguing to see this character portrayed so organically; a nod to Smith’s acting abilities.
Smith was not the only actor to garner attention in the film; Aunjanue Ellis should also be acknowledged for her performance and considered for nomination, in my opinion. Her supportive, but firm, portrayal of Brandi Williams elevated her to my Top Five Favorite Black Movie Mom list. From her Sistah Girl role in Undercover Brother to Hippolyta Freeman in Lovecraft Country, Ellis has played strong and intelligent characters over the years, some of whom she seems to have channeled for this role. When Richard makes questionable decisions, she puts him in his place without embarrassing him. She even lets him know she has taken on the responsibility of holding the family down despite having her own ambitions. Another favorite Brandi moment for me was when she confronts her neighbor who called Child Services on them. She reminds the neighbor that they both have daughters (Brandi having five) and how tough it can be, then ends the conversation with “don’t make me come over here again.” All I can say is can we give Aunjanue her flowers now?
I can recall a few powerful moments in this flick. The first for me was when the neighborhood thugs assaulted Richard. They had tried multiple times to harass his oldest daughter while she studied during Richard’s practice sessions with Venus and Serena. Richard decided to get his gun from his security job and kill the group leader, but a drive-by shooting beat him to it. The other was when Richard argued with his wife after pulling Venus from her first pro tournament. This was a powerful scene and showed how supportive Brandi was of the family.
The Film, The Story
I often feel biopic movies miss the mark when it comes to making an exciting project, but King Richard held my attention and, from what I could tell, the entire audience’s attention throughout the whole film. It may be because I grew up watching the Williams sisters and remember each of the events portrayed in the movie. I think the acting, plot, soundtrack, and editing helped make this film amazingly nostalgic. This film could’ve easily lost its focus while covering any part of the Williams’ lives, but the filmmaker made a great choice following Venus’ first pro tournament and ending with her defeat which was really a win for the Black community. It was also good to see Richard sitting in the stands with the family to show support for his daughter. During most of the matches, he was out of sight. This is a reminder he would be there for his daughter no matter what the situation. Earlier in the film, Richard told a story of how his father watched him get beat up by three adult white men and then ran away as the beating continued. I can remember the commercials and the amount of support the Williams family received for representing the community.
King Richard is also a reminder of how society looked at and still does look at Black families. It was assumed that since they came from Compton, they weren’t educated enough to make the decision to (or even willing to) take any steps to leave their rough neighborhood. Richard spoke confidence into his daughters, ensured they received a good education, and made sure they didn’t cave into the stressors of being young tennis players as many of their counterparts did.
Venus and Serena
The two actresses who portrayed the Williams sisters were great. I love how they gelled as sisters on screen. The portrayal of Venus (Saniyya Sidney) in the last act was so exciting as I, too, could feel the nervousness she felt facing the number one tennis player in the world. Demi Singleton as Serena was spot on as the determined and strong-willed younger sister. I would say if this were a series, I would love to witness Serena’s growth into the icon she is, but the film should stay as is, a solo project. Save the biopic of Serena for later as its own story since she is one of the greatest athletes of all time. These two actresses made me think of all the young Black girls who will love this film and be inspired just as the real Williams sisters inspired people all over the world.
I enjoyed this film and, undoubtedly, so did my fellow audience members in attendance. The film was so engaging that I found myself cheering for Venus during her epic match against the number one seeded even though I already knew the outcome of the match. With excellent acting and hard-hitting themes, I recommend everyone watch King Richard. I know I will be watching it for a second time with my beautiful strong Black nieces, looking for that spark of inspiration in their young eyes.
You can catch King Richard on HBO Max and in theaters on Nov.19th.