It’s at times an emotional film, even tense as befits the largely rough and tumble setting, but it’s mostly a pretty straight-forward docudrama, if with an upbeat sensibility as we’ve come to expect from the Former Fresh Prince. Starring Will Smith as father Richard Williams, the film recounts the tween and early teen lives of the two tennis legends, particularly their rise from obscurity in Compton, California, to the shining lights of the WTA.
As a father, Richard Williams is an incredibly protective figure, always shielding his daughters from the dispassionate outside world, but at the same time he’s a tireless drill sergeant for his five daughters, particularly the two tennis stars.iii It’s really a fascinating balance for a father to strike between the proximate polarities of excessive sheltering and a potentially smothering drive for excellence.iv Richard is a visionary – ambitious, relentless, even pig-headed – but also loving and patient. If this “based on” story is anything to go by, and we’ll certainly take it with a grain of salt, it’s little wonder than Venus and Serena are such successful adults, even if they sometimes forget their father’s pleas for abject humility.v
As several of my friends are set join me in the Cool Dad Club in the coming year, I won’t hesitate to point them towards King Richard as role model worth at least meditating upon, not least of all for his prioritisation of a well-rounded education even for focused athletes. Even if Richard’s trying circumstances can hardly be replicated by my friends, nor likely anyone reading this blog, as a loose and light-hearted parenting handbook, this film comes recommended.
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- 2021, directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green, produced by Tim White, Trevor White, and Will Smith. ↩
- I’ve always been a huge Serena fan because she embodies the same incredible BEAST MODE energy as Tiger, LeBron, and Ovi. In men’s tennis, Rafa comes closest but he’s still a bit too OCD to truly qualify in this elite group. Virgil also clearly resonated with Serena, bestowing upon her as he did those boundary-pushing “LOGO” outfits. ↩
- There’s little doubt, almost zero doubt, that Richard Williams beat his daughters like a sane parent does, but of course the film didn’t show that, because 30+ years have passed since the setting of the film and times have, how shall we say, changed. So instead of showing Richard the aggressor, they showed Richard the victim getting kicked down by the neighbourhood punks vying for his daughters’ hands, which maybe also happened? ↩
- It’s interesting to consider an old MPism in the context of Richard’s parenting approach, specifically:
individuation happens with hardship. the point of fambly sticking together is to control hardship through approaching it a certain way, much like a ship approaches waves a certain way. the bow is not the kids
- But hey, they’re the fucking best there ever was so excuuuuuse me! ↩