Review: “King Richard” offers a look into the rise of tennis phenoms Venus and Serena Williams


Photo credit: King Richard Promotional Poster

“King Richard” was theatrically released on Nov. 19, 2021. The biopic is based on the upbringing of tennis superstars, Venus and Serena Williams, and how learning under their father’s tutelage shaped their professional and personal careers.

By Vaughan Anoa'i, Editor in Chief

It all started with the 78-page plan. 

On the local tennis courts in Compton, California, Richard Williams, the father of superstar athletes Venus and Serena Williams, not only trained the girls as players, but shaped them into the influential and courageous figures that they would later become. Under the guidance and tutelage of their father, both Venus and Serena were able to reach new heights and make history within the sport of tennis. During the open era, Serena won more Grand Slam singles titles (23 total) than any other man or woman. Additionally, both Serena and Venus won 14 Grand Slam doubles titles, as well as three doubles gold medals at the Olympics.

“King Richard” was theatrically released on Nov. 19, by Warner Bros. Pictures and was also available on the HBO Max streaming service the same day. The film is a biographical drama that follows the life of Richard Williams, played by Will Smith, as he coaches both Venus and Serena through their respective careers. Actress Saniyya Sidney played Venus Williams and Demi Singleton portrayed Serena Williams in the film.

Directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green, the film springs viewers into the world of the Williams family, as their father Richard goes to great lengths to make champions out of his two daughters. In his portrayal of Richard, Smith is able to perfectly emulate the same inflexibility and passionate intensity that Richard is known for, as some consider him to be a controversial figure.

Richard even put together a 78-page plan that carefully listed out the accomplishments and accolades that he wanted both Venus and Serena to one day achieve. In addition to the plan, Richard conjured a brochure and video advertisement that introduced the girls not only as tennis players, but as people too. At the beginning of the film, Richard is seen handing out this brochure to any and all members of a predominantly white country club who either turn down or ridicule his efforts.

The film is set in the early 1990’s, where Richard is seen juggling two jobs at the same time. At night, he works as a security guard and during the day, he drives Venus and Serena to worn tennis courts where he trains the girls himself, along with his grocery cart that is filled to the brim with balls. Even in the pouring rain, Richard is sure to continue the girls’ training to ensure that they live up to the 78-page plan, and above all, serve as role models for an entire generation of Black girls.

Since tennis is such a predominantly white sport, it was inspirational to see Venus’ journey as she navigated through racism and pushed past the barriers that once confined her. As a person of color and athlete myself, I truly view both Venus and Serena as the ultimate role models and trailblazers; without them, I know for sure that the general makeup of sports today would not look the same.

To make it to the next level, Richard recognizes that there needs to be a shift in coaching for both of the girls. As he begins to explore outside options, he continues to deal with local gangs and nosy neighbors who disapprove of his coaching methods.

The overall pace of the movie begins to pick up as Venus and Serena meet their new coaches and begin practicing with them. Venus’ first coach, Paul Cohen, played by Tony Goldwyn, encourages her to join the junior tennis circuit where Venus beats virtually every competitor that she plays against. Richard could only afford to pay for one of his daughters to be coached by Cohen, which ended up being Venus. Although Serena was never coached by Cohen like Venus was, she receives training from her mother, and even goes as far to enter herself in junior tennis tournaments. To continue this winning streak, the entire Williams family moves cross country to Florida so that both girls can train under Rick Macci (Jon Bernthal), the mentor of famed tennis player Jennifer Capriati. Macci even pays for all of the Williams’ living expenses as he had that much faith in Venus to become the next big tennis star. While it was especially intriguing to gain further insight into Macci’s keen interest in Venus, it did not translate quite as much to Serena. A large portion of this movie is focused on Richard, of course, and although includes plenty of Venus, it does lend the viewer to wonder, at times, when Serena comes in.

After the move, Richard begins to drive a wedge between the family as he makes the purposeful decision to delay Venus’ professional debut as he believes that she is not ready for the spotlight yet. Richard’s wife, Oracene Williams, played by Aunjanue Ellis, is upset at Richard for not consulting her in this decision as she feels that she is alienated. All of these events lead up to an emotional confrontation scene between Richard and Venus, where she pleads to him that she is ready to embark on her professional career.

Toward the end of the film, the screenplay follows the Williams family through the ups and downs of Venus’ first pro tournament. Although she ultimately loses the match, it is arguably the most powerful moment in the entire film. As Venus sits in the locker room and is visibly upset after the loss, her parents immediately remind her of how big this accomplishment was, as well as how far she has come. As Venus leaves the arena with Richard, Oracene and the rest of her sisters, she is greeted with a large group of young girls, clustered together holding up posters with Venus’ name on them. Even though she did not end up winning, the influence that she has at such a young age is truly admirable, and something that seriously warmed my heart while watching this film.

In his portrayal of Richard, Smith is able to be both surly and passionate while also unpleasant and unlikeable, as he completely captures the essence of Richard Williams in this astounding performance. Even though this film is not the typical underdog story that are usually illustrated in sports movies, it still evokes a feeling of motivation to all who will watch. Since so many monumental events occurred throughout the course of the film, some of the smaller moments were certainly overlooked. However, it was so nice to see Venus nearly at the forefront since Serena receives so much attention and accolades, although certainly deserved.

“King Richard” is a solid film all around that succeeds in portraying the story of Richard, as well as all of the sacrifices that he made for the betterment of his two girls.

  • Story
  • Acting
  • Technical Quality
  • Enjoyment
  • Impact


After conjuring a 78-page plan, Richard Williams was steadfast in his efforts to make tennis stars out of his two daughters, Venus and Serena Williams. Their training initially began on the tennis courts in Compton, CA, where Richard himself coached the girls to become dedicated, hard working and fierce athletes. As a family, the Williams clan is able to overcome the challenges and restraints that were initially placed upon them.