Sunday, March 06, 2022

REVIEW: King Richard (2021) #YetundePrice

“As we got closer to Venus’s birth, it seemed like every three or four days Oracene would go to the hospital. Finally, they said she was ready to deliver, and I took her to have Venus. As I was putting on the gown and slippers to go to the labor room, I started thinking about all the things I wanted Venus to do—to play tennis, to be educated, to be a certain kind of person. Then I thought about what that little baby was going to experience if she was going to do all that. She was going to go through all of the prejudice I had been through. She was going to be called names. She was going to be called “nigger.” I could visualize it all, and I didn’t want that for my child. Suddenly, I couldn’t bear for Venus to come into this world. Not that I didn’t love her. Of course I did. I didn’t love what she would have to go through—and if there was any way I could have stopped it, I would have. I started to yell. Pain tightened my chest and sweat poured off me like I was having a massive heart attack. My life rose up to haunt me and I couldn’t bear my child having to go through what I experienced. The nurses wanted to know what was wrong, but I couldn’t share with them what was happening inside me.”
- Richard Williams 

I generally avoid Hollywood’s “holiday” blockbusters (see: Django Unchained - Christmas 2012; American Sniper - Christmas 2014; SHAFT - July 4th, 1971) and films with predominantly black casts. The System of White Supremacy demands that black people be depicted as criminal, sexually sinister buffoons who must be governed by Whites. I was uncharacteristically excited for the “Thanksgiving” release of King Richard, a biopic detailing the origins of two of the world’s greatest tennis players and most well known Victims of White Supremacy, Venus and Serena Williams. And then, I was uncharacteristically impressed and appreciative. It’s a rare thing to sit through 2 hours of of black affection and self-respect. 

They’re no spoiler alerts here because we all know how the Williamses’ story concludes: Two gorgeous black females revolutionize and dominate women’s tennis and professional sports globally. Despite their unparalleled accomplishments, Venus and Serena continue to be brutalized by the System of White Supremacy. In fact, during a 2012 visit to Nigeria, Serena told an audience, “the greatest obstacle we had faced were those who at this stage caused racial uproar.” 

And with so much Williams domination, Racists have roared. 

King Richard is restricted to the pre-champion, adolescent days when Richard Williams, depicted by “Fresh Prince” Will Smith, and then-wife Oracene Price, portrayed by the lovely Aunjanue Ellis, invested maximum time and energy to develop their two tennis prodigies. A 10-part series may be insufficient to cover the ceaseless and trifling attacks targeting the entire Williams family from the White aristocracy of tennis. An abbreviated list of malice includes: 

  • Relentless, unfounded allegations that Richard Williams pre-determined the winner when his daughters faced each other. The two ran roughshod over the White girls of the WTA for better part of two decades and faced each other 9 times in a Grand Slam finals or the WTA Championship. Whites were certain the uncouth black dad instructed one daughter to lose on purpose. 
  • Indian Wells, March 2001. 19-year-old Serena took the crown, trouncing Kim Clijsters and a boorish crowd of thousands of unruly Whites. Spectators believed Mr. Williams “selected” Serena as the winner and made 20-year-old Venus withdraw with a sham ailment. Serena boycotted the event for over a decade, while Venus never returned. 
  • Being twice as good, paid half as much. Maria Sharapova is White, and that’s about all she has on Serena. Apparently, that’s enough. The two played 22 times. Serena won 20. Sharapova’s nabbed 36 WTA singles championships. 73 for Serena. Winning be damned, Sharapova consistently made $10 million more from endorsements per year than Serena.
  • Regularly referenced as males (or worse). In 2014, Russian Tennis Federation President Shamil Tarpischev branded the tennis icons “the Williams brothers.” Tarpishcev is a part of a White Supremacist chorus that dehumanizes black males and females. In 2001, Sid Rosenburg called the sisters “animals who should be banned from playing on the women's tennis tour.” 

White Supremacy and championships abound in the Williamses’ biographies. Although King Richard couldn’t make time for all of this, the dramatization poignantly captures the fears, horrors, vulnerability, and labor of attempting to parent black children in a System of Racism. 

The film delivers numerous bloody conflicts between Mr. Williams and a cadre of young black male criminals. They make lewd comments towards his daughters and terrorize and assault Mr. Williams. The father and coach wrote an autobiography (Black and White The Way I See It), which confirms this violence. Mr. Williams adds that he deliberately relocated Serena and Venus to a sleazy, vicious region of Compton because the “ghetto makes you tough and strong—unless it doesn’t do anything for you at all but get you killed.” 

Between episodes of black hooliganism, there’s one moment where the vulnerability of black parents is exposed at the hands of White people. Mr. Williams and his soon-to-be-famous daughters return from practice to find a White female social worker flanked by armed White enforcement officers. The film suggests a snooping black neighbor instigated this intrusion. The White officials “needed to look” at the household, and, presumably, the nefarious activities of the black inhabitants. For decades, White Women - under the guise of “child welfare,” have flexed state authority to deposit untold numbers of Serenas, Venuses and Minister Malcolm X's (and his siblings) into ghastly depositories for black children. 

Smith gives a remarkable performance, and this scene is magnificent. Mr. Williams rules his household even in the presence of a blond White Woman and badge wielding White lawmen. He and Ms. Price invite inspection of their young savants and parenting techniques. Mr. Williams brags about being “hard” on his daughters before challenging the officers to arrest the [White] “parents at them tennis matches.” See Indian Wells. 

The film offers several sly glimpses of White parents berating their tweeners for poor backhands and wide serves, or simply telling a child to lie to escape defeat. Beyond sportsmanship, audiences see Mr. Williams’ vigilant observations of tennis star Jennifer Cappriatti, who debuted in professional tennis at the age of 13. Watching the White teen sensation’s narcotics arrest swayed Williams’ approach to shaping the genesis of his daughters’ unprecedented careers. Black girls aren't allowed a “second serve” for mistakes of youth.

This 2+ hour epic provides a heap of supremely captivating moments. As Venus and Serena begin amassing one of the greatest trophy halls in history, they read the first newspaper reports of Venus’s accolades while the 1991 video of the late Rodney King being bludgeoned by Los Angeles Police Department officers distracts their parents. This scene is beautifully executed with the children facing away from the television, their jubilee undisturbed. Meanwhile, Ms. Price musters the feeble hopes of a black parent in a System of White Supremacy when she tells her husband: “At least they got them on tape this time.” 

Again, no spoilers. We know having video of King being mauled meant nothing in Semi Valley. Los Angeles was left smoldering a year later, following the April 1992 acquittal of all White officers charged for bludgeoning Mr. King. When black lives are daily, globally pulverized, it is audacious and, seemingly, foolhardy to plan for and dream of magnificent accomplishments for black girls or boys. 

The Williams parents dared to plot their children’s path to tennis royalty in the face of unchecked police terrorism escalated by the 90’s War on Drugs. The film masterfully pivots from CNN’s Bernard Shaw reporting on the piñata-bashing of King’s skull to young Venus and Serena flanking former First Lady Nancy Reagan. The White tennis crowd and Williams crew are admonished to “Just Say No” to narcotics, or they too could end up beaten and jailed like Mr. King (Dr. Martin Luther or Rodney). The scene concludes with Mr. Williams jokingly branding the Whites in attendance KKK members before releasing a round a flatulence to answer the would-be-klansmen’s offer to take control of Venus’s career. 

The former First Lady and President Ronald Reagan did take selfies with the future tennis titans. Those pics paired with the photos of Mr. Reagan authorizing the federal observation of Dr. King’s holiday could be an impressive collage. Call it the: “Proof we’re not Racist” album. 

Venus and Serena hobnobbing with White powerbrokers signaled their burgeoning star power and generational tennis acumen. And it was just as Mr. Williams planned. In spite of White Supremacy and all lesser obstacles, he and Ms. Price believed their black babies would be extraordinary. 

One thing I appreciate most about this project is being immersed in an affectionate black family. To borrow from Ta-Nehisi Coates, audiences witness “all the love poured into [Venus and Serena]. The gasoline expended, the treads worn carting [them] to [tennis matches]. The embraces, all the private jokes, customs, greetings, names, dreams, all the shared knowledge and capacity of a black family injected into” the beautiful tennis conquerors we now exalt. 

But King Richard is not Pollyanna. Ms. Price and Mr. Williams have bitter disagreements about raising their girls and life in general. The two divorced years after the events depicted in the film. However, the two attempted black parents remain flirtatious and share tender moments in front of their offspring. 

And, poignantly, the film includes all 5 girls of Mr. Williams and Ms. Price’s attempted family. Mikayla Bartholomew resurrects older sister Yetunde Price, who was "accidentally" shot to death by gang members in 2003. While discussing the film, Serena revealed, “I think I cried the whole time. Whenever she came on film, I just — personally, I just started, like — I mean, even still.” The film triumphs showing the intimacy and love that molded two legends, and Yetunde’s presence is a powerful component of this origin tale. 

Although Yetunde was 31 at the time she was killed, her death illustrates the fears and vulnerability of Ms. Price, Mr. Williams, and every attempted black parent who cannot protect their child from the omnipresent violence of White Supremacy. Mr. Williams courageously, candidly shared the fears and frailties of a black father in the section of his autobiography that details Venus’s birth. 

King Richard climaxes - there’s still 35 minutes of movie after this scene, but this is the big finish - with Mr. Williams confessing his fears as a black dad to his daughter, “Junior.” Smith gives a master performance, tearfully telling Venus she’ll be “representing every little black girl on Earth.” She and Serena will be called niggers and worse. There will be days when it seems the entire tennis stadium is brimming with White Supremacists, thirsty for the Williamses destruction… and her black father will be helpless. 

Call it a pitiful truth, but this brilliant bit of cinema and parental honesty should be replicated between non-white parents and their offspring. Lying about or minimizing the System of Racism and the power individuals classified as White wield over black lives is dangerous and a hallmark of defective parenting. Venus and Serena were prepared to dominate the WTA. Mr. Williams and Ms. Price were equally vested in readying their two prodigies for the System of White Supremacy. The morning before Venus’s first big match, her mother provides a big dose of tactile love, braiding her daughter's hair and breaking out the beads, which were a fashion staple of the adolescent Williams sisters. While pampering, Ms. Price reminds her girls that they’re just like slave-turned-abolitionist Sojourner Truth: beautiful, strong, trailblazers. 

Smith and his exceptional co-stars didn’t just win over Gus. King Richard bagged six Academy Award nominations, including one for Best Picture. In spite of this, there’s been a staunch, vocal White chorus determined to malign this project. 

In late November, Dr. Jessica Taylor whined about Mr. Williams being the source of the film’s eponymous title - as though this was yet another example of “black male privilege” and Venus and Serena getting shafted in their own biopic. I’m certain the film’s executive producers, who happened to be Serena and Venus, thoroughly enjoyed this critique of their dad.  

Just maybe.. two black daughters wanted to give their attempted black father some love? 

To put a bow on “black history month 2022,” Kim Masters of Southern California’s KCRW’s interviewed the film’s director, Reinaldo Marcus Green. For the better part of twenty minutes, Masters consistently found her way back to asking Green how much material had to be sanitized to hide from audiences the philandering, flawed, black-male-brutishness of Richard Williams.

Apparently, it’s difficult for White Women and White Men to appreciate and commend an attempted black father who not only worked to make sure his offspring were not “running with hoodlums and doing drugs,” as the Williams patriarch told the White social worker, but also believed his black girls would conquer the über White world of professional tennis, become international black powerbrokers, and bankroll Oscar-nominated Hollywood flicks showcasing their affectionate, flirtatious, constructive attempted black family.

Mr. Williams’s autobiography, which was published years before this film, gives the highest praise to Ms. Price and her essential and complimentary role in coaching their daughters. In fact, during the book promotional tour, the beastly, black Mr. Williams told BBC Radio: “Through my girls and through a lot of women that was around me, I learned that womens (sic) have some of the greatest ideas in the world. The mens (sic) just need to learn to listen to them.”

Thanks to superb black parents, Venus and Serena have our ear.