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King Richard:  Never Back Down

Richard Williams play the Kingmaker of Tennis. He makes Venus Williams and Serena Williams, his daughters, names to contend with in the echelons of Tennis history. Dr Ramandeep Mahal analyses the Film, ‘King Richard’ which narrates the story of Richard’s  vision and dedication to make his daughters tennis stars.

Will Smith has been known for playing varied roles including some biopics like Pursuit of Happiness, Ali and others. He has never disappointed the audience ever. Neither does King Richard. King Richard is a 2021 American  biographical sports drama film directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green and written by Zach Baylin. The film is based on the lives of tennis legends Venus and Serena Williams' father, Richard Williams, who serves as the film's executive producer. American Film Institute and National Board of Review both deemed it one of the year's greatest films, with the latter bestowing best actor award and best supporting actress on Smith and Ellis, respectively. The movie earned six nominations at the 94th Academy Awards (including Best Picture), seven nominations at the 53rd NAACP Image Awards (including Outstansing Motion Picture), six nominations at the 27th Critics' Choice Awards (including Best Picture), and four nominations at the 79th Golden Globe Awards (including Best Motion Picture-Drama). For his performance, Smith won multiple awards, including the  Academy award, golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Award. 

The movie would remind Indian viewers of Amir Khan’s role as Mahabir Phougat in Dangal. Will Smith plays the role of the father who resides with his family in Campton, California. The family includes his wife Brandy (Aunjnue Ellis), three stepdaughters and of course Serena and Venus. In order to put his daughters, Venus and Serena, into the history books, Richard Williams has a clear vision and a bold 78-page plan. With their father's unwavering determination and their mother's balanced viewpoint and sharp intuition, they transcend the apparently insurmountable obstacles and prevailing expectations put before them on Compton’s abandoned tennis courts. Richard overcomes racism, nosy neighbours and eve teasers. Suppressed by his community, Richard comes out strong. Richard works tirelessly to get a coach for the girls. As Paul Cohen (Tony Goldwyn) coaches John McEnroe and Pete Sampras, he ultimately gets Paul Cohen to look at Venus and Serena’s game. With the help of Rick Macci (Jon Bernthal), Richard’s sanity-preserving plan for both of his daughters is put into action, while he ensures that Venus and Serena continue to pursue their studies and have a regular adolescent life. He says ‘no’ to a big fat check because he would rather ‘stick to the plan’ with its long-term vision for his girls. He even withdraws them from junior tournaments because he fears that the girls may burn-out if they started too early, like Capriati on the circuit.  So, a 14-year-old Venus wins her first professional match in 1994 without participating in any junior match.

The struggle to be a good father, above all else, is crystal clear in the movie. It can be seen in the brawls he has with Brandy. One of the scenes has Venus winning a match against a white girl; Richard ends up showing the movie Cindrella to the girls in order to teach them to be humble. Richard’s struggle is of a man who has bulldozed his way to success instead of tiptoeing. The movie openly depicts black pride and black dominance. Like in the scene Venus is about to eat a cookie at a club and Richard walks in and stops her from ‘free loading’. He does not want his girls to depend on the whites for their needs. On one hand, we see Richard as a hard-working family man, but on the other, we see him as a devoted parent. The film gives a lie to Richard’s reputation for ignoring the so-called rules of the game and his propensity to crush the desires of even those closest to him, the ladies in his life who he was supposed to be working so hard to support.

Smith's portrayal of Williams is awe-inspiring, obstinate and bold. He is a man who has his flaws which he does not care to hide or disguise. As a parent he is selfless but in a peculiar manner that ultimately leads back to selfishness. He, however, ensured that Venus and Serena Williams become the torchbearers for women's tennis in the years to come. Which brings us to yet another one of his distinguishing characteristics: He is well aware of it. Sports are going to be dominated by these ladies, says King Richard. And so it is! The movie is entertaining, notwithstanding the autobiographical elements and well crafted. The movie does not focus on the visuals of tennis but rather on the characters of Serena and Venus and most significantly on Richard. So, here’s to fatherhood! You come out of the theatre empathizing with Will Smith’s character.


Dr. Ramandeep Mahal is an Assistant Professor of English in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at Maharishi Markandeshwar Mullana, Ambala. She received her Doctorate degree from Maharishi Markandeshwar Mullana Ambala in 2018. Her research interests include Anglo-American Literature, Indian Writing in English, African Literature. She is the author of more than twenty research papers.

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