King Richard, the Venus and Serena Williams biopic starring Will Smith as their visionary father Richard, is a compelling rags-to-riches story that’s made all the better because it’s true. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, this is a black “Cinderella” story that dramatizes the unfair conditions blacks face in the world and especially in the prestigious, white-dominated sport of tennis. King Richard, which linguistically associates Richard Williams to the beloved medieval English King, Richard the Lionheart, is a triumph on many levels.
It’s hard to know where to start with this one. Rather than doing a rote review, this is my opinion of the elements at work here, including Will’s seemingly uncontrollable response to established fellow black actor/comedian and Oscar presenter Kevin Hart’s off-handed joke about Smith’s wife Jada Pinkett Smith’s bald head. Nothing is as it seems. And that, to me, is the takeaway to one of most memorable Oscars ever.
I have enormous respect for Will Smith. He’s been a brilliant, consistently working actor for 30 years and his 2022 Oscar for Best Actor is well deserved. But Will is much more. He’s an ace at dramatic and comedic story development and he and his beautiful and talented wife Jada own and operate Westbrook, an independent production company with a first-look deal at Warner Bros (now being rebranded with the conglomerate company’s streaming arm). In my opinion, Will is not a man who is given to reactionary behavior.
The Smiths are an established Hollywood power couple and have dozens of TV, streaming and theatrical projects in development at Westbrook. So right off the bat, I think last night’s Oscar fiasco between Smith and Hart was not jut scripted and timed, it was choreographed. It caught everyone by surprise. The shocking nature of it has a global conversation going. I view this sparked conversation as focusing on the tyranny of political correctness and the future of comedy.
Think about it. Isn’t it ironic that Smith, who played the poor, humble but unstoppable black man Richard Williams, reacts completely out-of-character and self control to Hart’s jokes? In the film, Smith as Richard Williams, was adamant about not gossiping about others or investing in ego no matter the outcome. After Smith struck Hart in last night’s shocking live broadcast, we were forced to ask ourselves why? Psychologists tag this inner conundrum as cognitive dissonance.
That’s my opinion So enough about that. It’s great that Will Smith finally got Academy recognition for his contributions to the film industry. Go Will! To me, there are a few takeaways about King Richard and how the story and cast may impact future movies and television.
Actress Saniyya Sidney was fantastic as the young Venus Williams. I know we’ll be seeing more of her soon. She conveyed an innocent yet determined young woman who ultimately went up against her primary male role model, dad, to make her dream come true. This is a depth character we will not soon forget. Sidney (who debuted in the remake of Roots, then as Taraji P. Henson’s daughter in Hidden Figures and then as Denzel Washington’s daughter in Fences) is beautiful in all the best ways and this is her most powerful power performance to date.
Veteran Broadway actress and dancer Aunjanue Ellis was also outstanding in the supporting role of Richard’s long-suffering wife, Brandi. She stands by her man but ultimately also stands as her own self, which is one of the more beautiful character arcs for adult women I’ve seen recently in film. Ellis had a revered supporting actress role in Steven Spielberg’s remake of Westside Story this year as well. We’ll no doubt be seeing more of Ms. Ellis.
Last but not least, screenwriter Zach Baylin was nominated for best screenplay. He did a great job. I watched the movie twice to drink in the story, language and landscape of the script and could go again. Baylin goes deep with character (though likely under Smith’s tutelage) and doesn’t shy away from the nuance of relationship. It surprised me to learn that this is Baylin’s first produced full script. More to come.