Black and Latino ‘King Richard’ director Reinaldo Marcus Green talks about dads and sports

They are considered two of the most powerful players in the history of tennis.

Noir and Latino film director Reinaldo Marcus Green wants to bring viewers back to the moment before Venus and Serena Williams became champions – and all they had was the ambitious plan of a determined father who wore short shorts and a hat. cowboy on a tennis court in the town of Compton in Southern California.

Green is the director of “King Richard,” which premieres nationwide Friday and tells the story of Richard Williams, the father of Venus and Serena (played by Will Smith). Together with his wife, Oracene ‘Brandy’ Williams (played by Aunjanue Ellis), he sets out on a family journey from humble beginnings to the threshold of tennis fame and fortune.

“To the outside world he was quite controversial, outspoken and colorful,” Green said of Williams in an interview with NBC News.

After meeting the family and hearing their story, the director became interested in showing another dimension of Williams’ character.

Director Reinaldo Marcus Green at the Sundance Film Festival in 2018.Taylor Jewell / Invision / AP

“He was a dad who was just trying to do well with his kids, the best he could with the tools he had. And no one is perfect,” Green said. “He learned lessons in the process. road. At the end of our movie, he must have understood that his daughters are growing up and what do you do when that moment comes. Do you hold tight or let go? ”

Green, whose father is black and mother Puerto Rican, was born in the Bronx neighborhood of New York and raised on Staten Island and other parts of the city. The place he lived was not much different from Compton, Green said.

After Green’s parents divorced, his mother and father chose to have him live with his brother with their father. “They really wanted us to have a father figure in the house,” Green said. “It was also important to my mother.”

The director said he couldn’t avoid comparing his father – who was raising two sons to be major league baseball players – with Williams.

“We grew up with a similar dad… I literally grew up on a baseball diamond. I played travel ball and all-star baseball, “said Green, who also played in college.” My dad wore those short shorts too. So I knew what it’s like to grow up with this parent that other people think is kind of out there, but you know in your heart that he’s a special guy.

Green wanted to bring this level of complexity and authenticity to viewers by telling the story of two black sisters who became champions in a sport inaccessible to many diverse children.

The film is a unique window into the early lives of the Williams sisters, the director said. Viewers will see them take their first steps in becoming professionals at a young age when their parents created a plan for all of their future successes in tennis and beyond.

“They are ambassadors for their community,” Green said. “Tennis is only one aspect of what they did.”

Expanding diversity in the courts

Carlos Mendez, the founder of the Multicultural Tennis Association, remembers seeing tennis courts when he was growing up in his predominantly Latino neighborhood in East Los Angeles. But the courts were all locked.

The Mexican-American dad sees common ground with Williams, who created a tennis plan for his daughters just 12 miles away in Compton.

“I found a lot of parallels and similarities when I watched the movie ‘King Richard’,” Mendez said in a video interview. “For me, along with my daughter, it was essential that I encourage her as a Latina to do something outside of our tradition, of our comfort zone.”

Carlos Mendez, founded the Multicultural Tennis Association and says he can relate to the movie “King Richard”.Courtesy of Carlos Mendez

Mendez said he wanted his daughter to grow up with the opportunity to play tennis. But when his daughter started at a country club as the only Latina out of 30 children, he says the initial goal of sharing his love for tennis with his family became sharing the sport with other members of his community. .

“We don’t have a lot of kids who look like me or who like my kids to play there,” he said. “Less than 6 percent of college tennis players are Hispanic, compared to over 25 percent who play soccer.”

Mendez founded the Multicultural Tennis Association in Las Vegas, and he is now in Chicago, where they have expanded the association with sponsorship from the Mike Tyson Cares Foundation and offer free programs in downtown parks in partnership with the Chicago Parks District.

But beyond the mission of making tennis more affordable and accessible, Mendez says there has to be a cultural shift as well.

“In our culture, we really don’t encourage our young girls to go out and really compete,” he said. “We have to break down this barrier and allow children to fill these tennis courts. ”

Like Williams in the film, Mendez believes the key to success is balancing both education and sport.

“As a parent, it’s important for me to have a well-rounded youth,” he said. “And not just think they’re going to be the next champion, because what if they don’t become professional tennis players?”

Demi Singleton, Will Smith and Saniyya Sidney in a scene from “King Richard”.Chiabella James / Warner Bros. Entertainment

“Stories generated for us”

Asked about the importance of onscreen visibility, Green says more and more diverse stories are being told. But viewers don’t just want to see movies that only tick boxes of diversity.

“What you can see now is putting a black in the lead, or having a Latino,” he said. “But it’s not written for us. It’s written for someone else and it’s being inserted. Unlike the stories generated for us. And I hope it will be the next wave of movies.

Green says it starts with blacks and Latinos writing and telling stories about themselves, and having the ability to be both in front of and behind the camera.

“We’re on a long journey because we want meaningful and lasting change,” he said of creating authentic noir and Latino films. “Rather than just being in the moment. Hopefully our films will be timeless. And not just let’s do it now and paint it by numbers. ”

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