"King Richard" Credit: Courtesy photo

“King Richard” is about the vision and the conviction of one man—Richard Williams (Will Smith) and his determination to turn his gifted daughters, Venus and Serena, into the world’s greatest tennis players. He started building their road to success along with his wife Brandi (Aunjanue Ellis) even before their girls were born; he wrote down a 78-page manifesto, and according to the film credits at the end of the movie, most of these things have come true.

Of course when their journey started most folks believed he was crazy, but hindsight possesses 20/20 vision and Richard always had that kind of spectacular vision.

Will Smith is almost unrecognizable in the title role, and director Reinaldo Marcus (“Monsters and Men”) crafted a rather old-fashioned story that focused (gently) on how an African American kid grew up, running for his life because he’s running from the Klan in Shreveport, La.––but it’s in this hostile environment that his mindset formed. Fast-forward, Richard raised his five daughters in Compton, California and instilled in them a strong work ethic that is flavored with dedication. In many ways, both girls achieved the American dream.

Watching Venus’ success, Serena prepares to step into that world and the most interesting thing about this story is the discovery of the family’s life, what they overcame, and how Richard’s master plan played out in practice. The screenplay by Zach Baylin is strong and I would not be surprised if there was an Oscar nomination to follow.

The road to success was a challenge for Richard almost at every turn. One example is when Richard felt a certain way when a pair of sports agents showed up wanting to represent Venus using the word “incredible” to describe her ability. Richard believed that it was a “code” against their race (which it is). And remember that the game of tennis is mostly played by white people. As Venus begins to rise, her father reminds her of the responsibility that she takes onto the court which would later (if, done correctly) inspire African, African American, and Afro Latinos girls around the world.

And Richard was correct. Their daughters Venus and Serena Williams have become shining examples to millions of people, and this well-structured film exists to show us all that dreams can be achieved.

This is an inspirational story and it’s an important one as well. This family made their mark and it wasn’t easy. The film gives us a look into how Richard coaches his daughters on the broken Compton public tennis courts, and that nothing stopped their practice, it was rain or shine. One day a “concerned citizen” called the police on them for being too hard on their kids, and both Richard and Brandi let their words do the fighting. They explained that their kids must be tough, since “running the streets” is simply not an acceptable way of life.

Richard isn’t afraid and he shows this courage to his family that he’s protecting them. In one unexpected scene, he makes the bold choice to take the gun, from his security job, to stop the man who’s been harassing his daughter. The story also doesn’t shy away from dealing with the family’s faith and how they deal with the countless prejudices working against them—systemic and personal.

The actor, Smith, brings out Richard’s natural charisma and wraps it brilliantly into this man’s stubborn yet supportive focus.

Actresses Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton are pitch-perfect in their respective roles as young Venus and Serena; both can handle the athletic and the dramatic layers.

What I love best about “King Richard” is that this is a true story and one that can be replicated in any family if there is faith, direction, drive, and the will to never give up.

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