Spoilers for “King Richard” ahead!
Recently hitting theaters and streaming on HBO Max, “King Richard” stars award-winning actor Will Smith as Richard Williams, the father of tennis legends Venus and Serena Williams. The film depicts the early childhood days of the girls and how their father’s plan for the future transformed into a reality.
“King Richard” opens with Richard as he approaches three different high profile tennis coaches, attempting to convince them to take on his daughters as students. The coaches all turn Richard away. However, he’s adamant that his daughters are a force to be reckoned with on the tennis court. Richard is very forward, and he expresses his dream of making his daughters tennis stars before they were even brought into the world. This passion is reiterated as he references a 78-page plan he made for how his daughters’ tennis futures would play out in the years to come.
Richard’s persistence continues as he searches for a coach willing to take a chance on his daughters. He brings the girls to an upper-class country club and convinces Paul Cohen to watch them play. After the girls demonstrate their natural talents for Cohen, he questions them about what they want to achieve in their tennis careers. Venus expresses that she “wants to win the Wimbledon as many times as she possibly can,” while Serena relays that she “wants people to want to play like her one day.” Impressed by the girls’ talents, Cohen agrees to work as a coach for the Williams family, although he only agrees to coach Venus.
As Venus trains with Cohen, “King Richard” illustrates how Serena dealt with feeling “stuck in the shadow” of her older sister. Despite her disappointment, Serena continues to train just as hard and even takes initiative, registering herself in a junior competition on her own.
However, “King Richard” makes sure to bring the criticism to light as well. This is depicted early on as a neighbor disapproves of the pressure the Williams put on their girls. The neighbor relays her worries to Richard, and it soon comes to a boil when he and the girls return home from practicing in the pouring rain to find the police at their home, accompanied by Child Protective Services.
Richard faces even more scrutiny for controlling his daughters’ choices about playing competitively. After going 63-0 in the junior league, Venus becomes a force to be reckoned with, but Richard fears that his daughters will get caught up in the luxury and ego created by her dominance. This results in his executive decision to pull Venus from the junior league and end her training with Cohen.
Although “King Richard” portrays the effects of Richard’s overbearing parental tendencies, we also see that the roots of his actions are deeper than meets the eye. Richard is willing to go to any lengths to protect his daughters. This is depicted when Richard succumbs to multiple beatings at the hands of a group of neighborhood teenage boys who repeatedly harass his eldest daughter, Yetunde Price. One of the film’s most heartfelt moments is when Richard looks to his daughters following one of the attacks and says, “This world ain’t never had respect for Richard Williams, but they gon’ respect you.”
Set in the heart of Compton, California, “King Richard” also paints a picture of how race played into the rise of the tennis superstars in a predominately white upper-class sport. The girls receive death stares from competitors, microaggressions from sponsors and constantly suffer from the fear that they will fall victim to stereotypes. In one specific incident, Venus is recognized in the local newspaper for her win streak in the junior tennis league. As she and her sisters gush over this accomplishment, the local news plays the brutal beating of Rodney King at the hands of LAPD officers. The contrast shows that even as the girls’ tennis careers begin to flourish, the effects of racism will always loom in the background.
The film reaches its climax when, after not competing for almost three years, Venus finally gets a chance to get on the court again and play in a tournament. Having just moved to Florida to train with Rick Macci and a million-dollar Nike deal dangling above her head, the stakes are higher than they’ve ever been. The pressure begins to weigh on Venus as she starts out slow. But as she gets her head in the game, she absolutely smokes her competitors, bringing her to the championship match where she contends against Arantxa Vicario, the No. 1 tennis player in the world. In a heated match, Venus gets so close to winning but comes up short when her nerves get the better of her. A disappointed and upset Venus exits the now dim-lit empty stadium. Yet to her surprise, she is greeted by a swarm of fans shouting her name. Even though she lost the match, they remembered her name.
In the final moments before the credits begin to roll, the whole journey of the Williams sisters is brought full circle. Now 41 years old, Venus has won Wimbledon Open Era five times. She was also the first African American woman in the Open Era to be ranked No. 1 in the world. At age 40, Serena is a 23-time Grand Slam Champion and is considered one of the greatest tennis players in history.
“King Richard” teaches audiences a great lesson about shooting for the stars. With hard work, Richard’s daughters achieved everything within his 78-page plan. The names Venus Williams and Serena Williams have been immortalized, and the sisters have taught their fans that no dream is ever too big.