WATCH: Tennis Channel Live discusses the upcoming King Richard film.

Every superhero needs an origin story. Premiering in theaters on November 19, King Richard aims to be just that for real-life Wonder Women Venus and Serena Williams.

Set in the early 1990s, the Reinaldo Marcus Green-directed film is, in Venus’ own words at the AFI Fest premiere, “probably the best way it could be told.” It tracks tennis’ most dynamic duo from their humble Compton beginnings and through a sheltered and sometimes unorthodox development—all of which spearheaded by the eponymous family patriarch, played by Will Smith.

The Williams family were heavily involved in the production of King Richard—Venus and Serena even made visits to set to meet young counterparts Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton—and a commitment to historical accuracy is present throughout the work. From wardrobe choices (including the Williams’ iconic beads) to Venus and Serena’s unmistakable backhand takebacks, Sidney and Singleton melt into their respective roles, effortlessly blending youthful innocence with indomitable determination.

“To see Black women be Black women is such a gift,” notes an emotional Mikayla Lashae Bartholomew, who plays late sister Yetunde Price. “It’s a rare gift, and it should not be, to finally give them control of their narrative and give their flowers to both their mom and daddy.”


While writer Zach Baylin clearly makes use of the extensive contemporary news and interview footage available—many of which, including Richard’s famous interruption of an interview with a young Venus, is repeated verbatim in the film—Sidney and Singleton go beyond mere reenactment to capture the sisterly bond that has defined Venus and Serena’s nearly three decades on tour. As the elder sister, Sidney becomes the film’s focal point as Smith’s Richard, burdened by a life of disappointment and savvy to the potential for burnout, weighs when to allow his 14-year-old daughter to turn pro.

Often an action hero playing a variation of the cool personality that exploded him into popular consciousness as The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Smith has an opportunity to play a distinctly different character in King Richard, and one of the sport’s most memorable at that. Nailing Richard Williams' physicality and Shreveport, La. accent, Smith brings immense paternal pathos, becoming the man behind the media persona, to contextualize his role in his daughters’ steep ascents.

Sidney’s Venus and wife Oracene, played superbly by Aujuane Ellis, may balk at some of his methods, but time is taken to illustrate how both parents have instilled core principles and unshakeable self-worth into their children. The result is a young-adult Venus making the agonizing decision to turn pro, playing and performing beyond her years as she pushes a top-ranked Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario to three sets in her 1994 Stanford debut.

But while King Richard is about two sisters and named after their father, its heart lies with Ellis, who embodies the ever-present “Queen Oracene” to perfection. Smith’s Richard has the big ideas, bringing Venus to train with coach Paul Cohen, who is seen working with Pete Sampras and John McEnroe—but Ellis’ Oracene ensures Serena isn’t left behind, working with her in Compton. She also foreshadows her younger daughter’s eventual to a 23-time Grand Slam singles champion in one of two impassioned speeches.


“Miss Oracene changed the face of tennis as we know it,” Ellis said at the premiere. “I’m excited for people to hear her story.”

For superfans of the sport—or even just of the Williams sisters—there isn’t much in King Richard that will come as a shock: the film is a faithful representation of their first steps into the tennis world, a classic underdog story of one unbreakable family proving everyone wrong. It also polishes most of the edges of what was surely a more intense struggle than what the film, which takes place in the aftermath of the 1992 L.A. riots, presents. While experiencing instances of gang violence and met with some skepticism and rejection from tennis’ gatekeepers, Venus and Serena’s talent almost immediately opens the door to Cohen and coach Rick Macci’s academy, making parts feel like a breezy, almost on-rails look at the Williams family story.

Most importantly, the film is an essential entry into the Williams canon, a starting point for those looking to learn about their legacy long after they’ve left the game, and an overdue element of representation entered into the pop-culture continuum.

“Finally,” exclaims Bartholomew. “What a beautiful fraction of our history that we’re making a monument of. I want to tell stories of people who look like me so we can make space and open the door for others to come in.”

The ending credits feature a whirlwind of the Williamses’ superheroic accomplishments, major victories and Olympic triumphs, none of which would be possible without the events of this unforgettable origin story.