In a global sport largely associated in the past with the white upper-class, two African American sisters from Compton, California arguably changed the speed and face of the sport of tennis forever. Venus and Serena is a fascinating documentary that dives into the lives of two of the most elite athletes worldwide, and gives us just a glimpse into the obsession of one father for his children to see a better life than he ever imagined for himself.
Richard Williams, father of Venus and Serena Williams, grew up in the small southern city of Shreveport, Louisiana during a time when the term “colored” was still a common label. He dreamed of the day when his two young daughters would be able to rise above their humble upbringings and find great success in a sport world that was for the most part untouched by African Americans, and still largely dominated by male superstars. Through his hard work, a combined determination from the girls, and total family obsession, the Williams sisters rose to a point of complete domination in both International Singles and Doubles tennis. These “girls from the ghetto” became the first sisters to win Olympic Gold on a Doubles team, and have set the bar high for all professional tennis players in terms of the number of Grand Slam titles they have each earned.
This documentary follows a year in the life of the sisters, while also looking into past accomplishments, upsets, and personal health struggles. The Williams sisters are portrayed as charming and tenacious, with a side of spice and quirk as they discuss topics such as a tragic family murder, body image, athletic training, and dating. Through interviews from other personalities such as former President Bill Clinton, and tennis legend, John McEnroe, as well as the sisters themselves, Maiken Baird and Michelle Major put together an excellent story of triumph and agony through the daily lives of two of our planet’s most untouchable female athletes. The filmmakers provide us with a rare look inside the home that the sisters share, as we are first-hand witnesses to the humor and perseverance that each woman has maintained over the course of her professional career. Woven throughout the film is a thread of the sisters’ common history that continually reminds us that at one point, not long ago, Venus and Serena were just two little girls with a big shared dream of tennis glory.
Running time: 99 minutes
Venus and Serena, A Magnolia Pictures film by Maiken Baird & Michelle Major opens at the West End Cinema (2301 M Street NW, Washington, DC) on Friday, May 10th.
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