‘King Richard’: The Real-Life Story Of Richard Williams, The Man At The Centre Of Will Smith’s Latest Film (Elle)

The film currently has a 90% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.


One of the biggest biopics of 2021 will soon be released, starring Will Smith and Liev Schreiber – a film titled King Richard.

And judging by the trailer, it’s due to be an extremely pithy, dramatic watch.

If you’re not actually aware of the real life inspiration behind the movie, let us enlighten you…

The biopic chronicles the early lives of tennis legends (and sisters) Venus and Serena Williams.

However, the movie does not place the multi-grand slam champions at the centre of the tale. The narrative focuses instead on the life of their father, Richard Williams (played by Smith), now 79-years-old, who was their coach.

So how did one man manage to coach both of his daughters to become some of the most impressive tennis players in history? Well, not without controversy. And this is what the film digs into.

What is King Richard about?

The film will document how Richard Williams, a man who did not play tennis, trained his two daughters Venus and Serena to become champion players, and not only that, but to ensure they left a mark on the sport forever and herald in a new era for women’s tennis.

Who is Richard Williams?

Born in Louisiana in the 1940s, Richard has said he grew up very poor in an extremely racist and violent environment. Richard picked cotton from a young age and in an interview has spoken about how, as a five-year-old, he was beaten by a white man, as well as suffering several other racist attacks.

As he grew older, Richard moved to Chicago and then California, where he later met Oracene (Brandi) Price. The couple had two biological children together (they both have children from different relationships too), Venus and Serena.

Image via Paul Harris, Getty Images

What is the true story about Serena and Venus Williams’ dad, Richard?

It wasn’t Richard’s love of tennis that inspired him to train his daughters to become champions, it was money. As he explained during an interview with Canadian television in 2014, he read a story that pro female tennis player Virginia Ruzici had won $40,000 during a tournament. He wanted his children to be successful and, after reading this, decided professional tennis was the way to go. Famously, before Venus (the elder sibling, out of her and Serena) was born, he had written a 78-page plan about how he was going to achieve his goal.

Having had a few coaching lessons himself, he applied this to his daughters, though he was not from a tennis background and was not a player. Raising the family in the socio-economically deprived area of Los Angeles, Compton, Richard started teaching his daughters when they were four-years-old on local tennis courts.

Discussing her father, Serena told Oprah Winfrey in 2003: ‘He stayed up many nights watching films so he could teach us. He taught our mum, and then they taught us… Our father doesn’t get enough credit. He showed us how to serve, and we have the biggest serves in women’s tennis.’

With some of his methods described as ‘unorthodox’, Richard and his daughters shook up the privileged and overwhelmingly white world of tennis. In interviews, Richard Williams has described his confidence that his daughters would be champions ‘even before they were born’ and encouraged Venus and Serena to carry their heads high. In 2018, a nineties interview clip of Venus being repeatedly probed on why she was confident by a white, male reporter went viral after Richard is seen interrupting the interview and berating the journalist for pressing on that one specific question and not taking her answer seriously.

‘You’ve got to understand that you’re dealing with [the] image of a 14-year-old child. And this child is gonna be out there playing when your old ass and me are gonna be in the grave… you’re dealing with a little Black kid and her confidence, leave her alone’ he said.

When Venus was 10-years-old, the family moved to Florida so the sisters could be trained by Rick Macci at his prestigious tennis academy for a few years. Venus won her first grand slam title at Wimbledon in 2000 and Serena at the US Open in 1999.

Two decades later in 2018, Naomi Osaka’s father Leonard Francois revealed that he was inspired by watching the teenage Williams sisters play at the French Open and then learned about how Richard trained them himself. With two daughters of his own, Naomi and Mari, he started coaching them in tennis. ‘The blueprint was already there,’ Francois told the New York Times. ‘I just had to follow it.’

In a full circle moment, Naomi beat Serena to win her first grand slam title at the US Open in 2018.

Who is in the cast for King Richard?

Playing the man himself is Will Smith. Jon Benthal will play Macci, Scandal’s Tony Goldwyn will portray the coach Paul Cohen and Dylan McDermott portrays a fictional sports agent.

Lovecraft Country’s Aunjanue Ellis plays the Williams’ sisters’ mother and the teen tennis stars are played by Saniyya Sidney (Venus) and Demi Singleton (Serena). The film is being directed by Top Boy director Reinaldo Marcus Green.
king richard film richard williams

How is Beyoncé involved in King Richard?

The Daily Mail reports Beyoncé has a new song that features in King Richard, which recently aired at the 2021 Telluride Film Festival.

The new song, reportedly titled ‘Be Alive’, means that the 39-year-old singer is eligible for an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song, if she and the film were to be tipped for the gong, which is very given the buzz around the film.

Despite her contribution to the original music for the 2019 film The Lion King, which earned the film a Golden Globe nomination, Beyoncé failed to make it in the running for an Oscar with her hit ‘Spirit’ from the blockbuster.

A Beyonce fan Twitter account claims ‘Be Alive’ was co-written and co-produced by Beyoncé and DIXSON.

What have Serena and Venus Williams said about the movie?

Serena and Venus serve as executive procedures on the film, along with Will and Jada Pinkett-Smith.

When the trailer was released (more on that below), Serena shared it with 13.4 million Instagram followers, writing ‘This should be good’ with a popcorn emoji.
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In January, Venus appeared on the Kelly Clarkson Show, and spoke about her excitement for the film (and mentioned that she and Serena had met with the two actors playing them) showing her full support for it too.

‘It’s really about my dad and how he literally changed the game, he’s a revolutionary kind of person and I love him to death.’

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Is the trailer for King Richard out?

Yep, the moving two and a half-minute trailer was released on July 29.

When is the release date for King Richard?

The film will hit cinemas on November 19, 2021.

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