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Column: Will Smith tennis drama ‘King Richard’ shows how, against all odds, hope works




My stepdad used to play the songs.

He worked for Ford, including double shifts when offered, but he still struggled to keep the lights on at times. To maintain the heat. To feed the three children under his roof. So he played the songs, hoping for a lifeline that ultimately never came.

My siblings and I, of course, didn’t know how poor we were. It is not uncommon for children living in poverty to be unaware of the hell their parents or caregivers are going through. But it wasn’t until my son was born that I fully understood how it felt for him as the sole breadwinner to sit in our apartment with no light, no heating, and hungry mouths to feed.

This is why I cried looking at King Richard.

I understand the temptation to see it as a Hollywood biopic about Venus and Serena Williams. And through that lens I can see why some people were disappointed that the film focused more on their father, played by Will Smith, than the two of them. And if this movie was made by people other than Venus and Serena, I’d be inclined to agree. But this isn’t the tennis version of Green Book, which chose to focus on the growth of a white driver as opposed to the brilliance of the black man he controlled, despite the film’s title coming from The Negro Motorist Green. -Book.

No, for many of us who grew up in the fire but were protected from the heat, we see King Richard as Venus and Serena giving their father, Richard Williams, who suffered a stroke in 2016, his flowers while still alive to fast them. hold . The film is a gift, a cinematic thank you card, an acknowledgment of a life that may not mean much to others, but means everything to them.

At times, King Richard’s story feels like a modern take on A Raisin in the Sun, with Richard taking on the role of Walter Lee Younger. At other times he takes the proverbial microphone of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five to convey a message of its own.

Stipple Style Portrait Illustration of LZ Granderson

Opinion columnist

LZ Granderson

LZ Granderson writes about culture, politics, sports and navigating life in 2021.

The movie is not meant to make it perfect. In fact, there are times when he is downright unsympathetic. But a man can only be beaten through life so many times before he starts punching himself. Sometimes he fights for his self-esteem. Sometimes he fights so his kids don’t have to. But the thing is, guys like Richard Williams, my stepfather, Walter Lee, James Evans, John Q, they’re always arguing.

That’s the story Venus and Serena, the executive producers of the film, wanted to tell, and I believe it’s a story worth telling.

There’s Oscar buzz for Smith and rightly so. After spending some time around Richard Williams, I can tell you that Smith does a great job recreating his mannerisms and speech pattern. (Of course, Marvin Gayes’ Whats Going On, an album widely regarded as one of the best of all time, didn’t win a single Grammy in 1971, so award season isn’t the last word on art’s merit.)

There is a bedtime scene in the movie where Richard is looking at his daughters, and he tells them it won’t always be like this. At that moment my tears began to flow.

You have to understand that this Compton is late 80’s, early 90’s. King Richard does not shy away from the drugs and violence that prevailed in the area at the time. There are several references to a neighbor’s daughter who plays tricks around the corner, probably because of her addiction to crack. Richard himself is bullied, even beaten up by gangbangers in front of the daughters he so desperately wants to protect, and yet he is often humiliated in his efforts. Sometimes by his own doing.

Both he and his wife Oracene and the girl’s mother have full-time jobs, but the only house they can afford is so small that the five girls share a room, two separate beds. They argue about money, as many struggling couples do. They disagree on the discipline. They love each other as long as possible. And yet, in spite of everything, Richard could still offer hope to the Jim Crow South where he grew up, the ubiquitous racism, the gangs, the eviction.

In a world that went out of its way to strangle it out of him, he found a way to keep it. Share it. Bring him into existence An hall of fame coach, beyond anyone’s expectations.

The world will never forget Venus and Serena. They will be tennis kings forever. And because of them, we will also remember Richard and not just the version that many in the media taunted for his strange behavior. But the version that believed, fought, cried, failed. The version that many of us who grew up in similar circumstances to the Williamses recognize and, most importantly, understand. The release time may well have been forgotten and the one we would never have known if King Richard hadn’t been around.





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