Monday, April 11, 2022

King Richard and the slap

You don't have to know much about tennis to realize that Venus and Serena Williams were famous, not only for their athletic ability, but also their personality.  Of course another sports film might not be what you are hunting for.  There is more to this movie as recognized by the Academy.

One noticed that there were few blacks in the tennis world and that might seem noteworthy.  How did they overcome what must have been racial barriers?  How did two sisters from a middle class background both become so dominant?  Part of the answer is in the title--"King Richard."   We are all products of our parents and for most of us that works out not too bad.  Venus and Serena had a father (assisted by their mother) who had a plan for them, he claims before birth.  He chose tennis as he felt blacks winning in that sport would be attention getting.  But more than that he wanted them to be well rounded with a strong education.

Previously unknown to most fans, he had three other daughters and they were valued as well.  They traveled together and at one point he insisted a contract had to be for the whole family.

He and his wife identified the two of their daughters as having enough talent.  They used community facilities to build up their tennis skills, but were constantly angling to get professional coaching.  They had few resources, but were persistent.  Finally using videos and mostly a charming aggressive approaches he broke through and was able to strongly impress a coach who would teach one of them for free.  Later on Richard was able to get an even better coach and the younger daughter squeezed into training.

While all this is going on Richard was determined that all his children would get a balanced education, insisting on top marks.  As the older daughter Venus was winning matches he became concerned she was bragging (boosted by his other daughters).  He showed them all a video of "Cinderella" and asked them what they got out of it.  What he was looking for was that Cinderella was humble and that is what he expected of his daughters.

While the coaches were pushing what they saw as extraordinary talent, Richard was constantly trying to push different techniques.  Later he seemed vindicated by a repetitive suggestion, but for the most part he seemed like an interfering parent.  It became very annoying when he went against some experienced advice about the career path of Venus.  He insisted that the whole family be included to a training camp in Florida from their California home, then he said his daughter would not participate in any junior tournaments.  The coaches had touted the path of Jennifer Campriatti who had won numerous tournaments, but as we soon learned developed bad habits involving drugs.  His daughters all got high marks in school and Venus was able to speak four languages. 

The movie heads for the anticipated climax, after all,we know where the two women end up, but the writer and director have something else in mind.  It does not end with a victory, but does end in joy.  During the end credits we can read about their amazing accomplishments that seem like mere footnotes.

There are a few sidebars about the racial situation with a tv news clip of the Rodney King beating and once in awhile Richard expresses sarcastic biting remarks against racist assumptions going further on one occasion.

There was more than an interesting story and a well known actor to make this a satisfying view. 

Directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green and written by Zach Baylin.

Aunjanue Ellis played the mother and as such also got a Oscar nomination.  Received a B.A. in African-American studies from Brown University.  Some of her films include "The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3" (2009), "The Help" (2011), "The Book of Negroes" (2015), "If Beale Street Could Talk" (2018) and  "Desginated Survivor" (2018-2019).  Check:

Tony Goldwyn played the first coach.  He is the son of Sam Goldwyn Jr and has himself been an actor, director and producer.  Films he has appeared in include:"Ghost" (1990), "The Pelican Brief" (1993), "Truman" (1995), "Scandal" 2012-2018) where he played the president for seven seasons.  Check:

Jon Bernthal played the second coach.  Born in Washington DC, son of a lawyer he studied acting in Moscow, Russia where he also played professional baseball.  Back in America he has been in such films as "The Ghost Writer" (2010), "The Wolf of Wall Street" (2013), "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" (2015) "Sicario" (2015), "The Accountant" (2016), "Wind River" (2017), "Baby Driver" (2017), "Widows" (2018),  "The Walking Dead" (2010-2018), "Ford v Ferrari" (2019) and "The Unforgivable" (2021).

Saniyya Sidney was chosen to play Venus Williams.  Before that she had appeared in "Hidden Figures" (2016), and "Fences" (2016).

Demi Singleton was picked to play Serena.  She had appeared in one film and more recently a series, "Godfather of Harlem."

Will Smith of course was the star.  He had plenty of smart quips you might associate with him in other roles.  At points you might not have liked him as he was an overbearing parent who occasionally lost his temper.  He started his career as a rapper on "The Fresh Prince of Belair" and went on to do such films as "I, Robot" (2004), "Hitch" (2005), "The Pursuit of Happyness" (2006) and ""Concussion" (2018).  He also produced a number of films including  "The Pursuit of Happyness"  and "The Karate Kid (2010) with his son Jaden.   He along with his wife Jada Pinkett Smith produced the film.

You probably know lots about two of the executive producers, Venus and Serena Williams.  They helped make sure the story was factual.

Will may well be best remembered for slapping the face of Chris Rock on international tv at this years' Oscar Awards.  While this was shaping, I was semi dozed in bed and was startled and then confused with this action.  Revisiting I learned the host Chris Rock had been spouting out a series of "comic" insults to the audience and hit on one towards Will's wife that at first Will laughed at, but after glancing at his wife, saw she was not amused.  He was in the front row and easily got on stage and not only hit Chris, but swore which was picked up on many videos.  

Many have expressed their opinions.  Many of us thought he was protecting his wife.  Kareem Abdul Jabbar wrote that he felt Will lived up to an unfortunate stereotype, an angry black man.  The Academy decided he would be banned from any awards for 10 years.  Everyone wishes Chris Rock would have chosen a different joke.

An Oscar carries an amount of profit for a film financier.  Many film makers will be reluctant to invest in Will Smith because they will be missing that extra inducement.  On the other hand ten years is a long time and Will has proved to be a versatile money maker so when the right circumstances occur he may well find himself the solution to some one's problem.  A few years back there was great consternation that no blacks were nominated for an acting award. 

I like him as an actor and appreciate he is talented as a producer.  But he will always be associated with the slap.  The movie stands on its own and is one my favorites so far this year.

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