african-american directors series: king richard (reinaldo marcus green, 2021)

King Richard falls into two fairly predictable genres, the biopic and the sports movie. Sports movies often have a thrilling conclusion ... boxing and horse racing work this quite well. Biopics? They can get our attention if we are fans of the person in question. Both genres suffer, though, from restrictions. There is usually a beginning, a rise, a drop off, and then a finale that leaves the audience happy.

As a sports movie, King Richard does have a twist or two, mostly because the people we care about the most, sisters Venus and Serena Williams, are secondary characters, with their father, the titular King, being the focus of the film. It's not that Richard Williams is uninteresting, it's just that the reason we've heard of him is because of his daughters. You would be forgiven if the movie gave us more Venus and Serena and less Richard. Having said that, Venus and Serena are executive producers of King Richard, and they seem fine with the focus on their father.

Biopics usually fudge facts to make for more entertaining movies, and King Richard is no exception. It helps that Will Smith gives the kind of performance people will remember come Oscar time. But then, most stars of biopics get that kind of attention. In recent years, we've had Best Actor nominations for Gary Oldman (twice), Rami Malek, Michael Fassbender, and Bryan Cranston (not to mention Will Smith in Ali), while Viola Davis, Andra Day, Renée Zellweger, Cynthia Erivo, Margot Robbie, and Natalie Portman getting Best Actress nominations. Some of these performances are excellent, although there's a tendency to congratulate and actor for imitating their subject. The biggest problem with biopics is that the real lives of the characters matter, but making entertainment matters more, and when you opt for entertainment, you are likely telling something less than the truth about the actual human being.

King Richard holds our attention, albeit for too long a running time (144 minutes). But it doesn't help when you learn more about Richard, when you learn what was left out.

Saniyya Sidney as Venus makes up for a lot, though. She is the best thing about the movie. The result is a movie I am glad I saw, but not a movie I will rave about.