The movie, directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green, looks at how the sisters from Compton, California, became two of the greatest athletes in tennis history — and the role that their domineering dad played in helping them get there.
Smith told Entertainment Weekly that the character appealed to him for a very personal reason. “[He] remind[ed] me a lot of my father,” the actor said in November 2021. “It was that same generation — men that used to fix everything with their hands. I understood what it was like to live at the edge of survival and to try to sustain a dream.”
Over the course of nearly three decades, the Williams sisters have gone from being teen phenoms to sport icons, winning 30 Grand Slam titles between the two of them. However, Serena said her father was the driving force behind her and Venus’ success — which is why the film is named after him.
“There are so many ways to tell this story,” she told EW in November 2021. “But I think telling it through my dad was the best way because he had the idea. He knew how to do it.”
The Louisiana native didn’t play tennis himself, but “he stayed up many nights watching films so he could teach us,” Serena said in a 2003 interview with Oprah Winfrey. “He taught our mom 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.”
The film covers a seven-year period in the ‘90s when Richard was trying to get his daughters noticed by elite coaches — but Serena admitted that the things happening on screen still felt real to her now.
“There’s a scene where my dad says…” she said in a November 2021 interview with Smith before catching herself. “Well, Will says that you’re doing this for every Black girl. And that really hit me in a different way because obviously at the time we didn’t know.”
Richard has taken a less visible role in his daughters’ careers, but Smith hopes the film will keep his legacy alive. “One of the greatest honors as an actor is to be able to celebrate someone’s legacy while they’re still here creating it,” the Men in Black star wrote via Instagram in July 2021.
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