When I say ‘representation matters’, these are words that I do not take lightly. It’s not just to be ‘seen and heard’. True equality comes from the value we contribute and the respect gained through opportunities that get us a seat at the table.

It’s refreshing to watch a biopic carry out that sentiment by treating its film with such heartfelt warmth and relatable sincerity. The kind that understands the formulaic conventions we’re used to, but still uses the methodology to its advantage without resorting to predictable cliches or melodramatic traits that dilute or undercuts its presence. That is what director Reinaldo Marcus Green’s King Richard brings to the table – the story of Venus and Serena Williams and how they became the tennis superstars of today through the coaching of their father, Richard Williams (played by the outstanding Will Smith).

People would probably question why you would tell the story of two sporting legends from the perspective of their father? It’s not just because Richard Williams is an engaging figurehead in real life. Green’s direction and Zach Baylin’s script help sell the concept, collaboratively bringing a grounded perspective that refuses to place individuals on pedestals that can’t be reached. Success didn’t happen overnight, and through the experiences and struggles of what the Williams family endured, becomes an eye-opening access into the gatekeeping privileges and underlying racist tones behind the sport that they would eventually dominate.

It’s symbolic in one scene after Richard show a pitch video of his daughters to Arden (Kevin Dunn), a potential investee. Richard dials up the charm hoping to impress. Arden downplays their ability and potential, not worthy of his time and patience. But it’s the type of repetitive gaslighting that fuels Richard’s ‘against all odds’ relentlessness because the confidence and belief in Venus and Serena are all part of the plan. Because “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”

But what takes you by surprise is the quiet yet genuine depth at play, as the film shifts and evolves through its various levels of Black nuances, referential dialogue, sublime cinematography by Robert Elswit and the accessibility that Pamela Martin’s editing provides. Green (off the back of Top Boy and Monsters and Men) confidently directs a film about the family unit and the teachable lessons we impart on our kids in surviving the world around us.

It feels so great to see Will Smith as a potential frontrunner for the Oscars once again. He expertly channels that The Pursuit of Happyness vibe, endlessly hustling for that American Dream and a better life for his family. But his performance this time around is far more potent. King Richard is not interested in painting Richard Williams as a saint. He flirts with the dark side, times where his life could have ended in a blink of an eye. Occasionally, his ego-driven and stubbornness is a blind eye for the lack of consideration for others. His methods are unconventional and demanding. Other times, he’s a contradictory hypocrite, telling his daughters to be humble and not to brag whilst doing the complete opposite. On the surface, this may be viewed as another ‘pushy parent’ type of story, but it’s intertwined by this sheer belief that not only protects their daughters from predatory contracts that undervalue their worth with false hope at progression, but still ensures that their youthful education allows Venus and Serena to enjoy childhood without enduring the pressures of the game through endless competition.

And this is where Smith shines through. When bouncing off Tony Goldwyn’s Paul Cohen or Jon Bernthal’s moustachioed Rick Macci, it’s the meticulousness behind the performance that shows incredible restraint as he leans into Richard’s studious obsessions around tennis techniques (the ‘open stance’) or the pitch-perfect use of his humour throughout. That drive towards something better is always offset by what is happening around him, such as the burnout fate of Jennifer Capriati or something like Rodney King, which becomes a subtle reflection of the plight of Black lives. But it’s also representative of how the story actively combats against the recycled stereotypes of deadbeat or absent Black fathers.

Smith will undoubtedly take that centre court attention (and deservedly so), but it’s Aunjanue Ellis who steals the show as Brandi Williams – Venus and Serena’s mother. And she becomes a fulcrum in how the film gently shifts into a female-driven focus when it comes to a woman’s worth and what they sacrifice to make their children’s dream a reality. Just like Smith, her name should be part of the awards conversation.

That energy is further amplified through the performances of Saniyya Sidney (Venus Williams) and Demi Singleton (Serena Williams). Because the film is so contained, not trying to tell their story as a series of events on a timeline, it allows itself the patience, time, and grace in seeing their innocence and joy in playing tennis. And as much as this film skews heavily towards Venus (overshadowing Serena’s contribution and subsequent rise), we easily forget how much Venus was a trailblazer before Serena achieved her GOAT status. King Richard is a poignant reminder of that, making you more appreciative of their collaborative success, knowing how many doors were opened that allowed her sister to progress through.

King Richard resonates because it’s a film I wished I watched as a kid. It’s a film that I hope Black women see and for the next generation of queens to embrace. Because it is a celebration of that perseverance and value, an inspiration that speaks for itself in how Venus and Serena revolutionised the game, but also the art of never selling yourself short. That is how true wealth and legacy is normalised and obtained because there is more to Black art than just the pain. Sometimes, it’s just great to watch a film that’s full of unapologetic and unfiltered joy of Black lives, and that recognition will never get old.

It’s a sports movie with a lot of soul. For such crowd-pleasing and uplifting euphoria it serves, it’s an emotional knockout that cannot be beaten. Game, set and match.

Rating: ★★★★