Venus and Serena

April 28, 2013 No Comments

Venus and Serena Williams changed the face of women’s tennis forever.  Pun intended.

Directors Maiken Baird and Michelle Major  have created a film that follows the two sisters during the 2011-2012 tennis season, inviting us experience the world of the Williams sisters during a period that was operatic.  (Non tennis fans may not know that Serena suffered a potentially career ending-life threatening pulmonary embolism during that time, while Venus was struck with an auto-immune illness.)  The sisters stormed the tennis circuit over ten years ago with sublime talent and have dominated the sport, creating a buzz about their strength and ability that was NOT always positive.  Race still matters, especially in the country-club inspired (white) tennis crowds.

Baird and Major weave wonderful archival footage of  Venus and Serena as phenom children, fresh from the semi-broken public tennis courts of Compton California, where they were trained by their father, Richard Williams( a character in his own right who nonetheless taught himself about tennis so that he could instruct his daughters.  Fiercely protective of his girls, he offended media and other pros alike.

The documentary combines a “day in the life” approach with carefully chosen talking heads (none other than Chris Rock, John MacEnroe and Bill Clinton) to provide a context to the events created by the Williams sisters.

Tennis fans will inhale this movie and want to head to the courts, inspired by the tenacity and talent of these remarkable women. (And yes, I did play better today after watching the movie last night).   Other humans will appreciate the film’s metaphoric value in revealing the nasty politics of power, the impact of racism(even if expressed only with white gloves), the enormous importance of family and the ultimate price demanded if one aspires to be the best.

The director’s admiration of their subjects is apparent, but it is interesting to note that the Williams sisters were not  totally pleased with the final result, and chose not to attend the North American premiere in Toronto, citing anger with the film’s  treatment of Richard Williams.  Given the loyalty of this family, this should surprise no one.

Without the Williams sisters,  women’s tennis would be cuter.  It’s difficult to imagine the game today without the power of Serena’s  big serve(even though Venus was probably the first to pass the hundred mile an hour mark),  the offensive punishment dealt out to any weak second serve and the beauty of their swing volleys.  Fashion on the court will never be the same, thanks to Serena’s cat suit, Venus’s controversial pants and those early days of the hair beads.

This is a movie worth seeing.  I will tell you as well that there are many (er white) players who continue to turn up their noses at the sisters and long for the good old days.  The film is available on Comcast on Demand for viewing before it is released in theatres this month.

It’s a grand slam.   Jolyn Wagner


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