I Have Not Watched “King Richard” Yet!

King Richard tells the story of Richard Williams, father and coach to tennis phenoms Venus and Serena.

A die heart tennis lover, I have been immersed in the sport long before Venus and Serena stormed onto the court! So I have been witness to their greatness. The changing hue and popularity of the game cannot be attributed to any other player (Hingis, Henin, Sharapova, Federer, Nadal). Simply put the Williams have revolutionized the sport. In fact, they are transformational far beyond the 27×78” court.

Today players and commentators who once publicly and loudly derided the Williams, especially father and coach Richard, have done an awkward about face, retconning opinions. They now call Serena the GOAT. They laud her triumphs and revel in her defeats. Ironically, her legacy is being compared to Margaret Court’s. For the Williams the benchmarks are forever changing!

Juxtaposed against Richard Williams‘ unapologetic blackness, the sport’s proud whiteness, symbolically signaled as the OK sign, is still jarring. The sport has long owed the family apologies, pleas for forgiveness, reparations.

The sport will never truly embrace the Williams family. But it will co-opt and celebrate this film. They will use it for promotion of the next slam, Australian Open 2022, since the WTA and ATP Finals concluded days before the film’s premier. Don’t expect, the sport to comment, much less address any controversies the film highlights. But that’s not why I haven’t watched the film.

King Richard has to do more than cement Richard Williams’ tennis legacy.

As a womanist, I fear the film’s messaging. The image of the Williams women (four sisters and mother) protecting Richard’s legacy is troubling. If they don’t honestly depict the man, warts and all, they will be seen as apologists. This is not the role I want to see Black women in, not in 2021. The black family’s need to keep our darkness and pain secret is damaging. And our support of Black men, sometimes even over our own needs is killing us. I hope this film shines light on Mama Oracene as much as on Richard. Black men can’t be called our kings when they are not acting kingly. Men of honor are righteous and treat women with respectable and love.

With executive producer credits, I hope the family wields their power fearlessly and honestly. Having the power to tell our own stories forces us to do it right not for outsiders but for ourselves! Sadly, this film is likely more for them (the sport; the majority) than it is for us. There has to be a way to acknowledge Richard Williams’ genius without erasing the harm he has done to his family and himself.

After watching Will Smith’s Red Table Talk interview of the Williams women, I am even more anxious about the film’s need to idolize Richard William. Though I have no doubt Aunjanue Ellis will bring nuance and heft to her portrayal of Oracene, I have less faith in Smith’s performance and none in this films commitment to moving the Williams’ carefully crafted narrative beyond the well worn stories already shared in Venus and Serena and Richard Williams’ memoir, “Black and White: The Way I See It”. So I may not be ready to watch King Richard this weekend, but I will soon. Till then my fervent prayer is that it does not reinforce harmful narratives, outsiders have used against us or ones we use against ourselves, in search of respectability or fear of white fragility.

When are you going to watch King Richard this weekend?

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