Before Richard Williams (Will Smith), there was Mahavir Singh Phogat (Aamir Khan). Remember Nitesh Tiwaris dangal (2016)? The movie, like King Richardtold of Phogat, a national-level wrestling champion from a small village in Haryana, Balali, who put his daughters, Geeta and Babita, on a rigorous training schedule to make them international wrestling champions.
Phogat, like Williams, faced ridicule and prejudice to inspire and guide his girls to the finish line. The finish is of course different for us. Our finish line was with tears streaming down Phogat’s cheeks as he hears the national anthem and realizes Geeta has won the gold at the Commonwealth Games. Williams’ dreams for his tennis prodigy daughters, Venus (Saniyya Sidney) and Serena (Demi Singleton) were somewhat different, which is revealed in the epilogue.
At the age of 15, Venus signed a contract for $12 million, in addition to becoming the first African-American woman to number one, while Serena won a whopping 23 Grand Slam titles.
Director: Reinaldo Marcus Green
Cast: Will Smith, Aunjanue Ellis, Saniyya Sidney, Demi Singleton, Tony Goldwyn, Jon Berntha
Storyline: The story of two sisters who are tennis prodigies and their father’s unwavering commitment to break the divisions of class, race and gender to make them legends
Running time: 145 minutes
Directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green, King Richard tells the story of the often controversial and abrasive Williams, who had a plan (85 pages) for his daughters even before they were born. In Compton, Los Angeles, Williams and his wife, Oracene/Brandy (Aunjanue Ellis), coach Venus and Serena while working day jobs as a security guard and nurse, respectively. Williams tries hard to get the girls a coach. Finally, he persuades Paul Cohen (Tony Goldwyn), while coaching John McEnroe (Christopher Wallinger) and Pete Sampras (Chase Del Rey), to check out Venus and Serena.
Cohen is impressed and agrees to coach only Venus for free. That doesn’t stop Williams recording everything and having Brandy Serena train based on the recordings. Williams’ constant comments and corrections during coaching don’t make him particularly endearing to Cohen. Just as Venus makes it to the big league in junior tournaments and snoops around sponsors, Williams decides to take her out of tournaments for fear she will be abused by slick white businessmen.
Rick Macci (Jon Bernthal), who runs a tennis academy in Florida and trains Jennifer Capriati (Jessica Wacnik), offers Venus a place in his academy. Williams strikes a tough deal and the family moves to Florida. The film ends with Venus turning pro in October 1994 at the age of 14 and putting world champion Arantxa Sánchez Vicario (Marcela Zacarías) on the bench during the classic tournament of the Bank of the West.
The film has the blessing of the Williams sisters and can be seen as a version of the truth – was Williams’ ambition for his girls’ money or to create a path for countless women of color? Underdog sports stories are always exciting and tennis is the best form of eye candy. King Richards is in for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Actor (it’s hard to see Smith for Williams), Supporting Actress (Aunjanue Ellis), Original Screenplay, Editing, and Original Song.
While it’s depressing that both the Phogat and Williams sisters needed a man to get them out of Balali and Compton respectively to reach their destination, it’s nonetheless heartwarming to see the triumph of the human spirit.
King Richard is currently in theaters