SCORE: 8/10

What kind of father do you want to be? 

It’s a question any man would be remiss not to ask himself at some point in life. For Black men in particular, it can be an even more vexing one. 

Some of us, like me, grew up without one. And while there are many Black men who step up to the plate, modern cinema often lacks proper representation of Black men taking an active part in their kid’s lives.

The long-awaited tennis biopic “King Richard” does the lion’s share to fill the gap, with director Reinaldo Marcus Green providing a heartwarming, funny and surprisingly candid depiction of a father’s unyielding devotion. 

“King Richard” finds veteran actor Will Smith at center court, dipping back into the magic bag of inspiration that made films like “The Pursuit Of Happiness” a smashing success. 

This time, Smith plays Richard Williams, the outspoken father of five known for willing his children to excel by any means. His greatest claim to fame is the coaching and nurturing of his daughters, the legendary tennis players Venus and Serena Williams (played with aplomb by Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton, respectively).


Richard drafts a 78-page plan for his daughters, laying out exactly what needs to be done for them to “go from prodigy to pro.” But everything he knows about the game is through his own research. He realizes the only way his girls will reach the colossal heights he’s set for them is through real professional coaching. 

With the help of his wife Brandi, portrayed onscreen by veteran actress Aunjanue Ellis, Richard pushes his girls through the long odds against them, both financial and societal. 

And those challenges are by no means understated in this film. For decades, tennis has been a disproportionately white sport. Despite the overwhelming impact of the Williams sisters, less than 7 percent of professionals are African American. 

The cost is one of the biggest reasons for that. It takes more than just racquets and balls to play tennis at an elite level. You need access to quality courts, which are often behind the gates of swanky and pricey clubs.

You also need money for entrance fees into tournaments, which get you exposure. But “Venus and Serena gonna shake up this world,” manifests Smith’s Richard Williams. And that they do, walking proudly and confidently into resorts and competitions.  Amid stares, bewilderment and micro-aggressions that have become all too relatable to the Black American experience, the Compton, Calif., family shines, and the Williams sisters dominate.

Photo taken at XS Tennis Village on Nov. 10, 2021 by ANF Chicago // The TRiiBE
Photo taken at XS Tennis Village on Nov. 10, 2021 by ANF Chicago // The TRiiBE
“I’m blown away by this place,” Oscar and Golden Globe-nominated actor Will Smith said about XS Tennis Village, a Black-owned and operated multimillion-dollar athletic complex on Chicago’s South Side. Smith visited XS Tennis Village earlier this month with castmates Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton, who play Venus and Serena in ‘King Richard.’ During the event, six XS Tennis Village players received one-year scholarships donated by the United States Tennis Association and Warner Brothers.

Understandably, one would expect this film to focus on the iconic tennis duo. But we’ve seen their history play out before our eyes, with 30 Grand Slam titles between them and Serena still at the top of her game. There is sure to be a film or two ahead that will dive deeper into their perspective. 

But “King Richard” points the camera at their father, a compelling and flawed character in his own right. The film does a superb job balancing humor and levity with some of the more weighty and grim parts of his story, touching on how his rocky upbringing as a boy still haunts him as a man, and how that pushes him to give his daughters the absolute best he possibly can. 

To him, that’s not money or material things. It’s setting them up for success on and off the court; pressing them for straight A’s on a report card the same way he would for a perfect tennis serve.

“It was a story of Black people trying to ascend in this sport and constantly facing a hurdle or an injustice or an unwelcoming environment,” XS Tennis founder and CEO Kamau Murray said during the ‘King Richard’ event at his South Side tennis village. “The facility was built in this neighborhood in this manner to sort of cure that. So people who live in the Midwest could come here without having to move to Florida.” Video by Tonia Hill // The TRiiBE

Smith is long overdue for an Oscar (he’s been nominated for performances in “Ali” and “The Pursuit of Happiness”), and his take on tennis royalty may finally deliver him the coveted statue. While he may not resemble Richard Williams, you would be hard-pressed to find another actor with the precision for the part.

Play a clip of the real life Williams, then queue up Smith delivering dialogue. The attention to detail is uncanny. This is a role he was fully prepared for, and it’s unlike any role he’s done before. No braggadocious cop from “Bad Boys” can be found here — he’s just a focused old man wanting the best for his girls. 

“King Richard’s” cinematography provides a tonal balance to the narrative, with evocative use of light. It gives the movie a soft, warm and comforting feel, which serves as a counterbalance to the more hard edge and strict approach of the title character. It almost serves as a reinforcement of the point that love is ultimately what motivates his drive. 

Lens flares help make normally standard shots more visually interesting. And the camera work for the tennis play is fast and dynamic. You feel the signature power behind Venus and Serena’s swing with every shot.

'King Richard.' Photo credit: Chiabella James. © 2021 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved
'King Richard.' Photo credit: Chiabella James. © 2021 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved

Ultimately, “King Richard’s” legacy as a film will be in who it inspires. For me, a man who grew up fatherless, it showed me the father I want to be one day. For other men, it can reinforce that it’s OK to nurture and emote. For young people, it may inspire them to break their own barriers and craft a unique lane, whether that is in tennis or another field. 

“King Richard” is a story that will capture your interest and your heart, despite already knowing the outcome. It has all the makings of a classic sports film, yet avoids the clichés of so many. It’s a charming tale delivering a powerful message about Black dads, their opportunity to lead and serve, and their kids’ potential to thrive from it. 

is an award-winning reporter, TV host, writer and podcaster who specializes in arts, entertainment and culture. Follow him: @bpopetv