Film Review by The African American Film Critics Association (AAFCA)
Richard Williams was born and raised in Shreveport, Louisiana where he was left traumatized by having a railroad spike driven through his leg for refusing to behave deferentially towards a gang of white racists. Understandably, that experience played a significant role in shaping the youngster into the highly-ambitious and fiercely-overprotective father he would later become.
In fact, well before his daughters Venus and Serena were even born, he hand wrote a 78-page game plan for their lives. Its foundation was laid in childhood, where they would not only be homeschooled but forged into professional tennis players.
Achieving that dream would be no small feat, given that the girls were to grow up poor in Compton, an L.A. ghetto far removed from the privileged background considered necessary to compete on the championship level. Sadly, upon turning pro, rather than being immediately embraced by California crowds, elder sister Venus was called the “N-word” by local fans who preferred to root for her European counterparts.
Nevertheless, having been prepared by their dad for just such a reaction to the presence on center court, both young ladies miraculously managed to rise in stature on the circuit. All of the above is chronicled in captivating fashion in Venus and Serena, an intimate biopic co-directed by Michelle Major and Maiken Baird who were allowed to follow the pair around with a camera for over a year.
Besides detailing the ups-and-downs of the turbulent, 2011 tennis season, this riveting and revealing documentary treats the audience to an intimate look at the close-knit sisters with the help of home movies from their adolescence. Featuring appearances by Chris Rock, Bill Clinton and Serena’s ex-boyfriend Common, this flick is at its best when Richard Williams is given the floor in archival footage to make audacious predictions about turning not one but two of his daughters into world-class tennis players.
Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 99 minutes
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures