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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Leila Latif

From Will Smith to Beyoncé – why is everyone talking about King Richard?

WILL SMITH as Richard Williams, DEMI SINGLETON as Serena Williams and SANIYYA SIDNEY as Venus Williams
Will King Richard be the film that finally earns Will Smith an Oscar? Photograph: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

In a crowded winter at the cinema, with everything from aliens to superheroes to princesses on the menu, there’s one film that everyone is talking about: King Richard. It’s the critically acclaimed biopic that follows the life of Richard “King Richard” Williams on a mission to turn his daughters Venus and Serena into tennis superstars. Having made audiences laugh, cry and burst into applause during its festival previews, what is it that makes this film so special?

1 Looks like Will Smith is finally going to win that Oscar
Having been nominated twice but never won, Will Smith’s performance is already a favourite contender for Oscar glory. Variety announced he is “now at the forefront of what is going to be a cut-throat best actor race”, and Awards Watch named him the most likely winner ahead of Denzel Washington, Benedict Cumberbatch and Bradley Cooper. The buzz is well earned, as Smith disappears into the character of Richard Williams and delivers a performance that is complicated, nuanced and intensely moving. Having been nominated twice, for Ali and The Pursuit of Happyness, it looks like three may be the magic number for Smith.

What’s more, the film itself also looks destined for Oscar glory: Variety declared that it’s a dead cert for a best picture nomination. Having already picked up awards at film festivals, in a few months King Richard might have a trophy cabinet as crowded as Venus or Serena’s.

Copy of KR-08238r
The film has the approval of its subjects, Venus and Serena. Photograph: Chiabella James

2 It’s Venus and Serena approved
The legends themselves appeared online with Will Smith to release one of the trailers. Having spent so much of their lives seeing their actions misinterpreted and twisted, with people obsessing over every outfit, display of emotion or expression of disappointment, now Venus and Serena are reclaiming their narrative, telling their origin story and showing how two young girls from Compton became the icons they are today.

  • King Richard is in cinemas from this Friday

3 One word: Beyoncé
That’s right, the one and only Beyoncé has written new music just for King Richard. Queen Bey was inspired by the story of the Williams family to write “Be Alive”, a powerful ballad with lyrics that speak to the film’s central message: “Look how we’ve been fighting to stay alive, so when we win we will have pride. Do you know how much we have cried? How hard we had to fight?”

4 It’s all about teamwork
It’s not just Will Smith delivering a stellar performance. The first festival reports have heaped praise on the entire ensemble, with particular acclaim going to Aunjanue Ellis as the girls’ mum Oracene, Jon Bernthal as coach Rick Macci and, of course, Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton as young Venus and Serena. The newcomer actors are being picked out as ones to watch. It seems particularly apt that King Richard has launched two very exciting new talents into the spotlight.

5 It’s directed by the director’s director
Best known for directing indie darling Monsters and Men and some of the best episodes of Top Boy, Reinaldo Marcus Green has taken a big step up with King Richard in terms of budget, scope and star power. The film is not only impressing audiences and critics, with its Rotten Tomatoes score topping 90%, but also has a vocal fan in Barry Jenkins, the Oscar-winning director of Moonlight and If Beale Street Could Talk, who could barely contain his enthusiasm.

6 You think you know this story, but you don’t
While you may have expected the hard work Venus and Serena put in on the tennis court, you probably have no idea about the devastating hurdles they had to cross, the danger they faced, and the lengths to which Richard Williams was prepared to go to protect his family.

JON BERNTHAL and director REINALDO MARCUS GREEN on the set of Warner Bros. Pictures’ inspiring drama “KING RICHARD,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
Jon Bernthal, left, as coach Rick Macci, with director Reinaldo Marcus Green. Photograph: Chiabella James

7 It shows how far we have come, and how far we haven’t
Set in early 1990s Compton, the infamous suburb of Los Angeles, race is at the forefront of King Richard. Not only is the Williams family constantly underestimated, scrutinised by social services despite their high achieving children, and told they would be better off “playing basketball”, but racism is also a deadly threat, with the police brutality on the news terrifying the family. While a Black woman dominating the world of tennis is no longer a foreign concept, sadly much of King Richard speaks to the Black community’s present-day problems.

8 We all need a hero
Venus and Serena Williams are more than two of the greatest tennis players the world has ever seen, they are icons who have inspired millions of people, in particular as heroes to Black girls everywhere. Richard is aware of their significance from early on, telling young Venus: “You’re not gonna just be representing you, you’re gonna be representing every little black girl on Earth.” But no matter your race or gender, a story of triumphing against the odds like the Williams family did, is universally inspirational.

In cinemas now. Book your tickets

King Richard © 2021 Warner Bros. Ent. All Rights Reserved

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