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The UK Premiere Of "King Richard" At The Curzon

Source: Jeff Spicer / Getty

Controversy is stirring following the debut of Venus and Serena Williams’ long-awaited biopic “King Richard,” which made its debut on Nov. 19.

Will Smith stars as the tennis icons’ determined father, Richard Williams, who undoubtedly played an instrumental role in shaping them into the Grand Slam-winning athletes we know today. From pushing the sisters to their limits in practice to coaching them on how to interact with the press off the court, the movie depicts “an undeterred father instrumental in raising two of the most extraordinarily gifted athletes of all time, who will end up changing the sport of tennis forever,” a bio for the movie reads.

While “King Richard” has garnered praise from movie critics and Oscar buzz from the academy, a recent article featured on Slate suggested that the film diminished Venus and Serena’s accomplishments by crediting their father with all the hard work behind their decades-long career. At one point in the article, the writer Allegra Frank notes:

“Venus and Serena Williams are the names we rightly remember, but “King Richard” remains fixated on the male bravado that pushed for them to get their names out there in the first place. Though the dismissal of women’s agency in their own achievements is disappointing and ill-considered, perhaps it should not be a surprise from a male screenwriter and a male director who’s written at length about how meaningful his single father was to him—certainly a moving tale but also one that bears out here to an undeserved level.”

Frank’s op-ed drew in criticism from Black social media goers who claimed that she was taking away from the message behind the film, which was meant to celebrate Richard and show a positive image of Black fatherhood. It’s also important to note that both Serena and Venus executive produced the film alongside Smith with careful intent and control of their own narrative.

One user named @Adrierising wrote on Twitter in response to the piece:

“Journalism that glosses over, if not outright erases, the wishes of said women in producing a film that honors their father is also frustrating TBH. So when we say pop feminism, especially the saccharine and particularly white brand of pop feminism, that’s driving these hot takes is more harmful to black women than whatever it’s pretending to dismantle, this is why serena and venus williams have been nothing but clear and forthright when talking about the contributions, sacrifices, and support of their father and pretending otherwise to get clicks is disrespectful and offensive to them and their success.”

Writer Mikki Kendall commented: Bullsh*t. They made a movie about their dad. There is no sexism in two daughters making a movie about their father.

The internet pointed a few fingers at a white woman named Dr. Jessica Taylor on Twitter for echoing a similar sentiment.

“Did they seriously make a film called ‘King Richard’ about the success of Serena and Venus Williams – but it’s about their dad, Richard?” she tweeted.

It wasn’t long before Black Twitter users slammed the “Rad-Fem author” for her ill-informed hot take.

“WW really need to be careful here. Richard’s NATURAL business savvy, skill & passion are how they got where they are,” Actress Reagan Gomez responded. “Venus & Serena weren’t the only ones who had to navigate white supremacy here. This feels…icky. Consider all sides, please.”

Another Twitter user chimed in: “Disconnected white feminists should have 0 to credibly say about how two successful Black women feel about the role of their father in their lives. These same women would rush to theaters were King Richard about child abuse. Go away.”

Taylor later clarified in a follow post that her comment wasn’t meant to rile folks into a heated tailspin. “I genuinely didn’t expect a film about two of the most powerful, successful, and amazing black female athletes to be named after a man or center a man. I would have loved this film to be all about them and not a man. That’s it, really,” she added.

Actresses Demi Singleton and Saniyya Sidney portray the tennis All-Stars, while their mother, Oracene “Brandi” Williams, is played by Aunjanue Ellis.

During an interview with Entertainment Weekly earlier this month, Serena explained why she and Venus chose to share their story through the lens of their father.

“There are so many ways to tell this story. But I think telling it through my dad was the best way because he had the idea. He knew how to do it,” she said. “He was one of the most misunderstood people during that time. Nobody got it…He was so far ahead in terms of the balance between pushing and protecting, [and] had a savant-level comprehension of when those moments were.”

“King Richard” is out now in movie theaters and available to stream on HBO Max.

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