Will Smith’s Role in ‘King Richard’ as Venus and Serena Williams’ Dad Sparks Backlash

Will Smith and Richard Williams (Credit: Shutterstock and CNN)

Will Smith is catching some heat for his reported involvement in a new biopic about Serena and Venus Williams’ dad, Richard Williams.

The film, King Richard, centers around Richards’ life struggles and how he helped transform his young daughters into international tennis stars. Deadline reported Monday that Smith is set to play the tennis coach in the movie, a casting decision that has spurred backlash due to the color of Smith’s skin.

Although the actor and Richard are both African-American, some critics believe the role should go to someone with a darker complexion. A few people mentioned Idris Elba and Mahershala Ali as more suitable options, to name a few suggestions.

“Colorism matters,” sportswriter Clarence Hill Jr. wrote in a tweet. “Love will Smith but there are other black actors for this role.”

Musician Questlove seemed to address the situation with sarcasm, stating: “Spot on casting choice yet again.”


In one thread, a fan presented a thorough argument for why accurate representation is important.

“I think the reason why some people don’t see an issue with the Will Smith is casting is because 1. It’s Will Smith, 2. Some don’t think of him as light skin (to me he’s brown) and 3. Some feel that skin color shouldn’t matter as long as the person is Black,” the person wrote.

The argument continued: “But skin color is important when comes to casting, especially if the person is dark skin. When it comes to Serena, some of the hate she gets is rooted in colorism along with racism. I don’t doubt her father dealt with that too.”

The message concluded: “Also, casting Will Smith is another example of how colorism plays a part in casting decisions. There are plenty of dark skinned actors (besides Idris Elba) who could’ve played the role.”


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Smith has yet to address the controversy surrounding the reported casting decision.

As for the script itself, King Richard was runner-up on the 2018 Black List, a website featuring “Hollywood executives’ favorite unproduced screenplays.” In 2012, the site created a community where aspiring screenwriters can share their work with readers and potential producers.

Zach Baylin, a writer who worked in the art department of various films, including Side Effects and The Harvest, penned the project. King Richard is the first script of Baylin’s to be made into a major film.

The film’s plot will cover various points of Richard’s life, including his beginnings in Shreveport, Lousiana to his battles on the tennis courts in Compton, Calif., where he eventually settled with his family.

Richard began giving tennis lessons to Serena and Venus when they were kids, using a 78-page game plan he developed on his own. Serena went on to win the US Open in 1999, while Venus reigned victorious at Wimbledon in 2000. The win at Wimbledon prompted the dad to yell, “Straight Outta Compton!”, a reference to the hip hop group N.W.A.’s 1998 hit.

Serena is considered one of the best women’s tennis players of all time, and she —  along with Venus — is a four-time Olympic gold medalist.

Richard talks to "Trans World Sport" in a 1992 interview. (Credit: Trans World Sport/YouTube)
Richard talks to “Trans World Sport” in a 1992 interview. (Credit: Trans World Sport/YouTube)

Tim and Trevor White of Star Thrower Entertainment will produce the film in conjunction with  Smith’s production company, Overbrook Entertainment. Allan Mandelbaum (Ingrid Goes West) and Caleeb Pinkett (After Earth) will serve as executive producers and Mary Solomon and Rick Rickertsen are co-producers.