Following The Legend of Bagger Vance and Ali, Will Smith is reportedly in talks to take on another sports film. Deadline reports that the Oscar-nominated actor is “poised to play” Richard Williams, the father of Venus and Serena Williams, in an upcoming biopic titled King Richard.
While Smith certainly has the star power to headline the film about Williams’s determination to turn his two Compton-raised daughters into tennis champions, his rumored casting has already been met with some backlash. While Smith and Williams are both black men, critics say the role should go to an actor with darker skin, citing Idris Elbaand Mahershala Ali as examples of more appropriate choices.
Some have compared the casting reports to Zoë Saldana’s portrayal of singer Nina Simone in the 2016 biopic Nina, for which the actress controversially wore dark makeup and a prosthetic nose. Others have brought up Scarlett Johansson, whose role in 2017’s Ghost in the Shell sparked accusations of whitewashing.
“Colorism matters,” sports writer Clarence Hill Jr. said of the importance of casting an actor with darker skin to play the 77-year-old Williams.
But not everyone agrees. The negative reactions have been slammed by many Smith fans and movie buffs who say that critics shouldn’t quibble over the exact shade of his skin.
I don’t care if Will Smith is not dark enough for this role! I’m still going to watch it 💁🏾♂️. Y’all didn’t say nothing when white people played Jesus. pic.twitter.com/yLP2OV11Se— Joseph Jalil Fields (@JalilJoseph) March 5, 2019
Will Smith has played real people several times over the course of his career, including Muhammed Ali in Ali, Bennet Omalu in Concussion, Chris Gardner in The Pursuit of Happyness, a David Hampton-type in Six Degrees of Separation, and of course, as golf guru Bagger Vance in The Legend of Bagger Vance. (Only one of those is not a real biopic, and I’ll leave you to figure out which one.)
The Williams sisters appeared in the 2012 documentary Venus and Serena, and Serena took the spotlight in HBO’s docuseries Being Serena last year, but we all know there’s a big difference between documentaries and a high-profile Hollywood studio effort with movie stars involved. When King Richard is released, it will likely be viewed by many times more people than the combined audiences of those two documentaries, elevating Richard’s story into the pop culture consciousness. And for the final time, since I know some of you are about to furiously fly into my mentions: I’m not saying his story doesn’t deserve to be there, but wouldn’t it be nice to see Venus or Serena get their own movie first?