Historical Accuracy (Q&A):
Was Richard Williams a victim of racial violence when he was younger?
Yes. The King Richard true story reveals that when Venus and Serena's father, Richard Williams, was a youth living in Shreveport, Louisiana in the 1940s and '50s, white attackers hit him "over the head with a baseball bat, a bottle, and a flashlight." He said that he was beaten up when he was five for "handing a dollar to a white store clerk." He told CNN's Open Court that he witnessed a friend being lynched. He also told the story of another friend who was run over by a white woman, after which the woman claimed it was the fault of the victim. In his 2014 memoir, Black and White: The Way I See It, he said that when he was a child he "had a war against white people."
Who taught Richard Williams how to play tennis?After moving to California, Richard says that a man named Oliver, whose nickname was "Old Whiskey," taught him how to play tennis. Old Whiskey was an alcoholic who at one point had done some work with tennis greats Jimmy Connors and Arthur Ashe. Richard paid him with a pint of whiskey each time he had a lesson, as the man had requested.
The real Richard Williams (left) in the early 1990s and actor Will Smith (right) in the movie.
Did Richard Williams develop a 78-page plan for Venus and Serena's careers before they were even born?
Yes. A King Richard fact-check confirms that he wrote the 78-page blueprint for his children to become tennis stars before Venus and Serena were born. In 1980, he decided to create the plan after turning on the TV and seeing 25-year-old Romanian tennis player Virginia Ruzici awarded $40,000 for winning a four-day tournament. Richard viewed tennis as an avenue to success and prosperity for the family.
Key to the plan would be that his kids would be trained in one of the country's roughest areas, Compton, California. "The ghetto will make you rough, it'll make you tough, it'll make you strong," Richard said. It's true that most people thought he was crazy for being so determined that his children would become tennis superstars. Yet, as we're told over the movie's end credits, reportedly nearly all of his initial plan has come true.
Did Venus and Serena begin holding tennis rackets when they were in their strollers?Yes. While the movie starts out when they are older, the King Richard true story confirms that Venus and Serena's father would place tennis rackets in their hands when they were babies. Venus, the older of the two, started to take tennis lessons when she was four years old and Serena enrolled not long after. -Biography
Venus (12) and Serena (11) in real life in November 1992. Right:
Actors Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton in the movie.
Did Richard Williams choose tennis for his daughters because of the lack of diversity in the sport?
No, this wasn't the reason he chose the sport for Venus and Serena. In his book, Richard says he chose the sport after discovering how much prize money even women could win at the time. He told q on CBC that he realized, "You know, if I had two kids, I'd become rich. ... That was my actual motivation." As stated earlier, he was amazed when he tuned in to see Romanian tennis star Virginia Ruzici win $40,000 for a four-day tournament. It was then that he decided tennis would be the sport for his (not yet born) children.
In his memoir, Black and White: The Way I See It, Richard writes, "I didn't think it was possible for anyone to make that kind of money in four days, especially a woman. I couldn't get it out of my mind. In a couple of days? Really? ... Without hesitation, I said to myself, 'I'm going to have two kids and put them in tennis.' From that time on, tennis consumed me." During the q on CBC interview, Richard said that as time went on, he realized he had the wrong concept. He realized that he no longer wanted to find success on the backs of his daughters. Instead, he wanted to make it on his own.
Black and White: The Way I See It
by Richard Williams is his official memoir that recounts the story of his life, including his role in coaching his daughters, Venus and Serena, to becoming tennis champions.
Did Venus and Serena grow up in Compton?Yes. A King Richard fact-check reveals that they lived in Compton, California until the early 1990s when Venus was 10 years old. Richard had the money to raise them in a better area (they had lived in a "beautiful" area about a block from the beach until Venus was almost three years old), but he believed that Compton would prepare his kids for anything thrown at them in life. In his memoir, he states that one of the biggest misconceptions is that when his daughters burst onto the tennis scene, people thought of them as "the poor black family from the ghetto rising up against the white tide of tennis in America." Richard says that the reality is that they weren't poor and that he "paid his own kids' way through tennis" without ever taking a penny from anyone.
In the early 1990s, the family moved to Florida so that Venus and Serena could attend Rick Macci's prestigious tennis academy.
Venus Williams in real life and actor Saniyya Sidney in the movie.
Did Richard Williams work as a security guard?Yes. As an individual who had a history of stealing as a youth, Williams commented that the security business "was a natural for someone who knew as much about stealing as I did." In exploring how accurate is King Richard, we learned that he first worked for other companies until he had enough hours to get a license to open his own company, the Samson Security Service. Though his main office was in Compton, he operated in a number of areas around Los Angeles. Given the amount of crime in Compton, there was a demand for security guards, especially at night. Williams said that as his business grew, he had more than fifty men working for him. He had contracts with construction sites, banks, and office buildings. -Black and White memoir
Did Richard Williams drive the girls in an old red and white Volkswagen Bus?
Yes. Richard Williams' real Volkswagen Bus is shown in the top picture below (with Williams driving). The vehicle inspired the nearly identical VW Bus that Will Smith's character drives in the King Richard movie (bottom picture).
Richard Williams drove Venus and Serena to the courts in an old Volkswagen Bus (top) that's nearly identical to the one Will Smith's character drives in the movie (bottom).
Did Richard Williams get beat up by gangbangers who were harassing his daughters?Yes. The movie shows Venus and Serena's father (Will Smith) being roughed up after confronting thugs who are hitting on his underage daughter. The real Richard Williams told CNN that he got into physical altercations with gang members so that his daughters could use the local public tennis courts. In an interview with q on CBC, he said that he got in a fight with three or four guys and had his nose and ribs broken. He also had ten of his teeth knocked out from getting kicked in the mouth. During that same December 1985 altercation, gang members slashed the tires on his Volkswagen Bus and smashed the windshield. In his memoir, Richard says that it was an ongoing effort to get the gang to not gather at the tennis courts. His two-year battle with the gang resulted in numerous arguments and fights that "almost destroyed my body and my spirit."
Did Richard bring the gun from his security job intending to shoot the thug harassing his daughter?
In conducting the King Richard fact-check, we learned that according to Richard Williams' memoir, he brought a twelve-gauge pump shotgun to hunt down the gang members who had severely beaten him in December 1985 for trying to get them to stay away from the Compton courts (not for harassing his daughter). As he got out of his VW Bus, the gang members saw his shotgun and fled. Unlike what's seen in the movie, he never had one of them in his sights and instead retreated after witnessing the gang member being gunned down in a drive-by shooting. The actual story is a little less intense.
In real life, he couldn't find any of the gang members and decided to return home. On the way, he saw police cars and an ambulance blocking traffic. He parked his VW Bus to try and see what had happened. It was then that he saw that one of the gang members who had beat him was lying dead in the street. His friends and family had gathered around his body. As Richard observed their grief, he realized he never wanted to induce that type of pain. He promised himself he would never bring the shotgun with him again.
Did people shout racial slurs at Venus and Serena while they were on the Compton tennis courts?
In researching the King Richard true story, we learned that Venus and Serena faced verbal abuse from local gang members, as well as from whites who saw them on the court. According to their father Richard Williams, as they became more successful, the gang members tried to step in and defend them against "everything that white people shouted." This is left out of the movie.
Richard would later credit their time on the Compton courts as the reason they were able to maintain their composure when they faced a chorus of boos at Indian Wells in 2001. Fans who'd been promised they'd see the sisters compete against each other were upset when Venus decided to pull out of the match due to a knee injury she had sustained in her quarterfinal. Richard claimed that in addition to boos, he heard fans hurl racial slurs.
Venus Williams (left) as a child in real life, and Saniyya Sidney (right) in the King Richard
By that point, there had been ongoing rumors that Richard had been fixing his daughters' high-stakes matches that they played against each other. Venus and Serena publicly denied this at the time, pointing out that if their dad was fixing the matches, Venus wouldn't be so far ahead. "I think if my dad would decide, then maybe Venus wouldn't be up 4-1 [in their matches], maybe it would be 3-3 by now. So I don't think so," Serena said.
In his memoir, Black and White: The Way I See It
, Richard describes a number of other incidents of racist abuse from fans during matches.
Did Richard Williams have a group of schoolchildren bused to the Compton tennis courts to shout insults at his daughters?Yes, but it's left out of the movie, likely to avoid making Will Smith's character seem too harsh. In exploring how much of King Richard is true, we learned that Richard Williams had a group of schoolchildren bused to the Compton tennis courts to hurl insults at Venus and Serena. Richard didn't intervene. Instead, he believed that the verbal abuse would make them stronger. "In order to be successful, you must prepare for the unexpected – and I wanted to prepare for that. Criticism can bring the best out of you," he said.
Did gang members try to step in when Richard was being too tough on Venus and Serena?
Yes. This is another element that casts Richard in a negative light that's left out of the movie. The real Richard Williams admits that his training methods were often severe, so much so that gang members who were watching attempted to intervene. One thing Richard did was hang signs around the Compton tennis court that read things like, "Venus, when you fail, you fail alone." We see similar but less harsh signs hanging around the court in the movie. He did hang the sign that read, "When you fail to plan, you plan to fail," which was his motto.
When Richard was being verbally harsh on his daughters, the gang members tried to step in. "When (they) came to me and said, 'You can't talk to Venus in that way.' ... I said, 'Watch out. I'm going to do what I want to do,'" he told CNN.
Did a neighbor report Venus and Serena's parents to Child Protective Services?
In the film, a neighbor believes that Richard Williams is being abusive toward his children and calls the police. They arrive at the Williams home with Child Protective Services and question why Richard is so hard on the kids. In researching how true is King Richard, we learned that this scene comes almost directly from Richard Williams' memoir. In real life, some of the neighbors became concerned that Richard and Brandy were making the girls study too much and practice tennis for too long. "Someone even called the police on me for abusing my kids," Richard said. The police showed up and, much like in the movie, Richard explained to them that he was hard on his girls because he didn't want them to "be swept into a culture of drugs and bad people."
Did Richard Williams move the family from Compton so that Venus and Serena could attend Rick Macci's Tennis Academy in Florida?
Yes. As stated earlier, the Williams family left Compton in the early 1990s so that Venus and Serena could attend Rick Macci's tennis school in Florida. Macci is portrayed by Jon Bernthal in the King Richard movie.
The real Coach Rick Macci (left) circa the early 1990s and actor Jon Bernthal (right) as Macci in the King Richard
movie. Photo: Rick Macci Tennis Academy Facebook (modified)
Did Richard Williams end a meeting he was unhappy with by farting?In the movie, Richard Williams (Will Smith) intentionally passes gas at the end of a meeting with a prospective agent who wants to represent Venus. During an interview with Serena Williams to promote the movie, Jimmy Kimmel asked Serena if this really happened. While she sort of implied that it did, she ultimately said, "I plead the fifth." We could find no evidence in Richard Williams' memoir that this actually happened.
Was Richard Williams unfaithful to his wife?
Yes. The movie's acknowledgment of Richard Williams' infidelity is based in fact. While his estranged firstborn daughter, Sabrina, has referred to him as a "serial cheat," there's little information on the extent of Richard Williams' extramarital affairs. He does not delve into his infidelity in his memoir.
Does King Richard paint an accurate picture of Richard Williams?
Not exactly. It's rather evident while watching the film that we aren't getting the full picture of Richard Williams. Much of Richard's less savory side, including his ego, infidelity, and questionable business dealings are glossed over in the movie. In addition, the movie maintains the narrative that Richard was always kindhearted and nice. He hardly ever loses his temper. His darker side is all but absent, leaving us wondering what it was actually like to live with such a strict disciplinarian who was obsessed with his daughters' success. None of this is surprising given that this is an authorized biopic and Venus and Serena are executive producers on the film.
The movie also seems to show Richard favor one daughter over the other at critical moments, but we never see the impact that had on them. In addition, the film barely mentions why Venus and Serena were given almost all of their parents' focus when both Richard and Brandy had kids from previous marriages. Those things being said, Will Smith does capture Richard's drive, his 24/7 fixation on tennis, and the salesman-like persona of the controversial father.
Will Smith's character (left) paints Richard Williams as a more likable individual than he was in real life (right).
Are Venus and Serena Williams Jehovah's Witnesses?Yes. In researching how accurate is King Richard, we discovered that the Williams sisters converted to the religion after their mother, Oracene Williams, did in the 1980s. Per the religion's beliefs, Venus and Serena don't celebrate most holidays and birthdays, including the birthdays of their children. Passover is one of the only holidays they celebrate.
In 2009, Serena Williams berated a lineswoman over a foot-fault call on a match's next-to-last point. According to the New York Daily News, she allegedly told the lineswoman, "I swear to God, I'll f****** take this ball and shove it down your f****** throat." She was fined a then-unheard-of $82,500. As a result of the incident, she later remarked that "[church elders] had to have a talk with me" (Tennis.com).
"Serena often tells me that if it wasn’t for me and Jehovah, she wouldn’t be where she is," says father Richard Williams. "That’s enough to make you cry. I tried to get them to believe that they have pushed themselves, not me." -CNN
Did Richard really tell Serena that though Venus is going to be number one soon, you are going to be the greatest of all time?
Yes. Serena said that this happened around the age of 12. While researching King Richard's historical accuracy, we also discovered footage of Venus and Serena's father repeating this during an interview in the early 1990s, stating that although Venus was the rising star at the moment, the younger Serena would eventually become the best player. The statement in the movie is a foreshadow of what would happen in real life.
The real Serena Williams (left) on the court and Demi Singleton (right) as Serena in the movie.
Did Richard Williams pull Venus and Serena out of the junior tournaments?After rising tennis star Jennifer Capriati (played by Jessica Wacnik) is arrested with weed in a Florida hotel room, Will Smith as Richard pulls his daughters out of the punishing junior tournaments because he wants them to have a regular upbringing. This seems to be in line with how things unfolded in real life. The King Richard true story confirms that Jennifer Capriati, then 18, was arrested for possessing about 20 grams of marijuana in Florida in 1994. Like the Williams sisters, Capriati had also been coached by Rick Macci. She was indeed one of the players whose experience in juniors prompted Richard to remove his daughters from the grueling and at times damaging circuit, instead opting to wait until they were ready to make their professional debuts.
With regard to his decision to pull Venus and Serena out of juniors, Richard told the Washington Post, "We read a lot of things about Jennifer [Capriati] and Andrea Jaeger, but I tell you there are thousands of juniors out there that you will never hear of." It can also be argued that Richard didn't want the pressure and fame to consume them and cause his daughters to rebel against him.
Did Richard Williams yell at an interviewer for pressing Venus on why she is so confident?
Yes. A King Richard fact-check reveals that this scene is taken almost directly from the real-life ABC News Day One interview, which took place in 1995 when Venus was 14-years-old. One difference is that the actual interview took place indoors, while the movie depicts the interview happening outside. Another difference is that when Venus (Saniyya Sidney) tells the interviewer she knows she can win her first professional match because she believes it, the interviewer in the movie responds, "But you haven't played a match in almost three years." The real-life interviewer never made that statement just prior to Richard interjecting and scolding him. Watch the real interview.
Like in the movie (bottom), the real Richard Williams scolded an interviewer for pressing Venus on why she was so confident.
Did Venus and Serena experience racism from other players?Though Richard Williams has claimed this, it is left out of the movie, likely to avoid potential lawsuits. While we couldn't find evidence of racist comments made by other players toward Serena and Venus, fellow players have criticized the pair for being sore losers and having bad attitudes. In 2000, John McEnroe penned an article for the Telegraph describing Venus and Serena as "cocky" and rude, stating in the article, "What they have achieved is great but they have no respect for anyone in the game. Enough is enough. They are all cold as ice. Would it kill them to say hello to people in the locker room? Is it that hard?"
Black American tennis player Sloane Stephens said that Serena Williams acts like a wolf in sheep's clothing. Stephens upset Serena in the 2013 Australian Open quarterfinals. Two days later, Serena posted a cryptic three-word tweet that read, "I made you." Both Stephens and fans believed that Serena was referring to her. Serena then unfollowed Stephens on Twitter. "She's not said one word to me, not spoken to me, not said hi, not looked my way, not been in the same room with me since I played her in Australia," Stephens told ESPN. "And that should tell everyone something. How she went from saying all these nice things about me to unfollowing me on Twitter." Stephens said people's perception of her as being so friendly is not reality.
Is Venus's professional debut at age 14 depicted accurately in the film?
Unlike what unfolds off the court in the movie, we have footage of the real-life match that took place on October 31, 1994. In her professional debut, Venus Williams, then 14, faced the No. 59-ranked player in the world, Shaun Stafford, beating her 6-3, 6-4. It seems that one factor that likely prompted Richard to have Venus turn pro at that point was that the Women's Tennis Council's rules of entry were about to change. Once the changes were implemented several months later, girls would have to be 15 before they could turn pro and their tournament play would be limited for the first two years.
Venus Williams (left) shown during her 1995 appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show
not long after turning pro, and Saniyya Sidney (right) as Venus in the movie.
Despite allowing Venus to make the decision to turn pro, Richard did feel that as a 14-year-old, Venus was too young to make her professional debut. He told one of the producers of Oprah
that "a parent ought to be shot for letting a 14-year-old turn pro. ... When a child is 14-years-old, they're not ready for professional tennis." He said that the schedule, the number of tournaments, and all of the things that are given to them are too much for someone that age to have the discipline to manage properly. Richard stressed that he didn't want tennis to get in the way of his daughters' education. He believed that if they were educated, they would be better able to manage their finances and invest their winnings properly. Venus told Oprah that she had straight As.
Did Arantxa Sánchez Vicario leave the match to go to the bathroom (aka ice Venus)?It's true that Arantxa Sánchez Vicario, then the No. 2-ranked player in the world, called for a break during her second-round match against Venus at the 1994 Bank of the West Classic. It's unclear what she did during the break, but it's widely believed she was trying to ice Venus. Like in the movie, Venus had won the first set 6-2 and was leading the second set 3-1 when Vicario halted the action and left the court. After she returned, Vicario won the second and third sets, 6-3 and 6-0 respectively, to win the match.
Was Venus and Serena's half-sister, Yetunde Price, killed in a 2003 shooting?
Though it's not mentioned in the film, Yetunde 'Tunde' Price, portrayed by Mikayla Lashae Bartholomew in the King Richard movie, was killed in a shooting in Compton in 2003. While she and her boyfriend were parked in their SUV outside of a drug house in the suburbs of Compton, the gang members inside mistakenly thought that the SUV contained individuals from a rival gang. Two members of the Southside Compton Crips opened fire on the SUV, fatally wounding Yetunde in the head. The oldest of the five sisters, Yetunde left behind three children. She had worked as the personal assistant to her sisters, Venus and Serena Williams.
How many children does Richard Williams have?
The exact number of children Richard Williams fathered seems to be somewhat unknown. His estranged firstborn daughter, Sabrina Williams, said that she knows of between 15 and 19 siblings fathered by Richard, but believes there may be more scattered across the country from "LA to Louisiana." She referred to him as a "serial cheat" and nothing more than a "sperm donor." According to Sabrina, he had abandoned their family and her mother Betty when she was eight. -PageSix
Richard Williams (left) at Wimbledon in 2015 and Will Smith (right) in the movie.
After moving from Chicago to California, Richard married Betty Johnson in 1965 and they had five children (three boys and two girls, including Sabrina) prior to divorcing in 1973. Richard married Oracene 'Brandy' Price (portrayed by Aunjanue Ellis in the movie) in 1980, and they had two daughters, Venus (born 1980) and Serena (born 1981). After raising their daughters to become tennis superstars, Richard and Brandy divorced in 2002. In 2010, Richard married a grocery store owner named Lakeisha Juanita Graham, who is one year older than Venus. Together, they had a son, Dylan, born in 2012. Richard has other children too, including an adult son, Chavoita LeSane, who, according to a 2018 report in The Telegraph
, has power of attorney following Richard's strokes.
How many titles have Venus and Serena won?Serena won her first Grand Slam title at the US Open in 1999 and Venus at Wimbledon in 2000. As of 2021, Serena Williams has won 23 Grand Slam singles titles, including seven Wimbledon titles, and is second to only Margaret Court. Serena has a total of 73 career titles and has won more than $94 million in prize money. Her older sister Venus Williams has seven Grand Slam singles titles to her name, including five Wimbledon titles, and she has won more than $42 million in prize money. In total, Venus has 49 career titles.
Did the two actresses who play Venus and Serena have any tennis experience prior to being cast for the film?
No. Saniyya Sidney (Venus) and Demi Singleton (Serena) had to learn how to play tennis after they were cast for the film. "These girls, once they cast, they learned how to play tennis," Serena told Jimmy Kimmel, "and they learned how to play our technique of tennis." While watching the film, "you can't understand that they didn't play tennis before. It seemed like they've played tennis their whole lives." Serena said that she never had a chance to play with the young actresses on the court.
Venus Williams (left) and her sister Serena (right) visit with the actors who play them when they were younger, Saniyya Sidney (middle left) and Demi Singleton (middle right). Will Smith (center) portrays their father.
Do Venus and Serena largely credit their father for their success?Yes. Despite the criticism Richard Williams has faced for being a strict disciplinarian who used 'unorthodox' methods and was often tough on his daughters, the King Richard true story reveals that both Serena and Venus credit him for their success and have said so on multiple occasions. During an interview with Oprah Winfrey in 2003, Serena spoke of her father's role in her success. "He stayed up many nights watching films so he could teach us. He taught our mum, and then they taught us... Our father doesn't get enough credit. He showed us how to serve, and we have the biggest serves in women's tennis."