Whatever issues some might find with releasing a trailer somewhat lionizing a Black father pressuring his Black daughters to excel at sports on the same week Simone Biles withdrew from the Olympics “all-around” teams final due to her own mental/emotional health concerns, The Suicide Squad is Warner Bros.’ last “big” movie until Dune in late October. That would be far too late to launch the marketing for this Will Smith-starring Oscar-chasing biopic opening theatrically on November 19, especially if it pops up on the early festival circuit. With the caveat that those outside the film nerd/entertainment media bubble won’t care about the timing, we now have the first trailer for director Reinaldo Marcus Green and writer Zach Baylin’s King Richard.
Starring Will Smith as the father of tennis superstars Venus and Serena Williams, King Richard is being sold as an uplifting, inspiring and “everything works out all the time” biopic. I’m assuming the real story is a little more complicated (real life often is), and I’m betting the movie partially reflects that. Everyone cried foul in advance of Will Smith’s Concussion in late 2015 over allegations that Sony had softened the “football causes brain damage” drama due to pressure from the NFL. I can’t speak to what was or wasn’t changed, but the final film (which earned just $48 million on a $35 million budget) was every bit as critical and uncompromising in its conclusions as one might hope.
This is a mainstream trailer for a mainstream audience. It implicitly promises moviegoers that the movie will be at least somewhat fun and uplifting. The big question is whether “the father and coach of the Williams sisters” is enough of a by-proxy “marquee character” when played by Will Smith to get regular audiences of all demographics to see this film in theaters. HBO Max availability aside, this is exactly the kind of movie (In the Heights, The Way Back, Doctor Sleep, The Kitchen, Richard Jewell, etc., etc.) Warner Bros. still makes and/or releases theatrically only to see folks reject them and complain that Warner Bros. only makes superhero movies, JK Rowling prequels and Space Jam sequels.
It’s also exactly the kind of movie we all say Will Smith should be making. We ignore Focus (which, to be fair, earned $150 million on a $50 million budget), Concussion and Collateral Beauty and then argue he needs career advice/a new agent when he signs up for Suicide Squad ($745 million without a penny from China), Aladdin ($1.053 billion) and Bad Boys For Life ($430 million) and is essential to making those films into over-performing blockbusters. Ditto, relatively speaking, Netflix’s Bright. The “good” news is that this is indeed being set up as an Oscar pitch for the commercially successful (arguably the biggest movie star in the world from 2002 to 2012) but perpetually underrated actor.
So if Smith ends up in the awards race, or even if he wins an Oscar (I’m presuming he’ll be run as Best Actor, but I digress), then the film will be a success. Likewise, Judas and the Black Messiah took its rave reviews, multiple major Oscar nominations (including Best Picture… the first for a film with all-Black producers) and two wins (including Best Supporting Actor for Daniel Kaluuya) and put that flick in the “winner’s box.” However, for folks who claim to want more “real movies” from the major Hollywood studios and fewer Will Smith franchise plays, it would be nice if we actually showed up for once. King Richard opens November 19. As always, we’ll see.
Based on the true story that will inspire the world, Warner Bros. Pictures’ “King Richard follows the journey of Richard Williams, an undeterred father instrumental in raising two of the most extraordinarily gifted athletes of all time, who will end up changing the sport of tennis forever. Two-time Oscar nominee Will Smith (“Ali,” “The Pursuit of Happyness,” “Bad Boys for Life”) stars as Richard, under the direction of Reinaldo Marcus Green (“Monsters and Men”).
Driven by a clear vision of their future and using unconventional methods, Richard has a plan that will take Venus and Serena Williams from the streets of Compton, California to the global stage as legendary icons. The profoundly moving film shows the power of family, perseverance and unwavering belief as a means to achieve the impossible and impact the world.
Aunjanue Ellis (“If Beale Street Could Talk,” TV’s “Quantico”) plays the girls’ mom, Oracene “Brandi” Williams, Saniyaa Sidney (“Hidden Figures,” “Fences”) stars as Venus Williams, Demi Singleton (TV’s “Godfather of Harlem”) stars as Serena Williams, with Tony Goldwyn (the “Divergent” series, TV’s “Scandal”) as coach Paul Cohen and Jon Bernthal (upcoming “The Many Saints of Newark,” “Ford v Ferrari”) as coach Rick Macci. The ensemble also includes Andy Bean (“IT Chapter Two”), Kevin Dunn (the “Transformers” films, HBO’s “Veep”) and Craig Tate (“Greyhound”).
Green directed “King Richard” from a screenplay written by Zach Baylin. The producers were Tim White and Trevor White under their Star Thrower Entertainment banner, and Will Smith under his Westbrook banner. Isha Price, Serena Williams, Venus Williams, James Lassiter, Jada Pinkett Smith, Adam Merims, Lynn Harris, Allan Mandelbaum, Jon Mone and Peter Dodd served as the executive producers.
The behind-the-scenes creative team includes Oscar-winning director of photography Robert Elswit (“There Will Be Blood”), production designers Wynn Thomas (“Da 5 Bloods,” “Hidden Figures”) and William Arnold (“The Hate U Give”), Oscar-nominated editor Pamela Martin (“The Fighter”), and two-time Oscar-nominated costume designer Sharen Davis (“Dreamgirls,” “Ray”). The music is by Oscar-nominated composer Kris Bowers (“Space Jam: A New Legacy,” “A Concerto is a Conversation”).
A Warner Bros. Pictures Presentation, A Star Thrower Entertainment Production, A Westbrook Production, A Keepin’ It Reel Production, “King Richard” is slated for U.S. release on November 19, 2021 in theaters and on HBO Max via the Ad-Free plan; it will be available on HBO Max for 31 days from theatrical release.