STREAMING REVIEWS: The African-American dream and nightmare

Published November 26, 2021, 6:48 AM

by Philip Cu Unjieng

The two subjects for today reflect the African-American situation – one a sports biopic of the father of Venus & Serena Williams, which features a winning performance from Will Smith. The other is a Limited Series that depicts the nightmare they can fall in, even in the midst of success – and stars Kevin Hart.

‘King Richard’

King Richard (HBO Max, Video on Demand) – Part sports film, part biopic, this film is benchmarked by the astonishing transformation Will Smith commits to, as he takes on the title role of Richard Williams. He truly inhabits the persona of Richard; his shuffling gait, his manner of speaking, and his driving ambition to finagle his daughters into being coached by the best, and becoming tennis champions – in spite of their disadvantages of coming from Compton and wanting to overachieve in a sport then seen as the enclave of white, country club prodigies. Yes, just in case you weren’t making the connection, two of Richard’s brood of daughters are named Venus & Serena. While often predictable, it never fails to entertain – and there’s talk that Smith may get Best Actor nominations for this role.

One scene I especially loved is when, at the start of their careers, Richard gatecrashes a practice session between Pete Sampras & John McEnroe, as he tries to enlist their coach to take a look at the girls and coach them. The film tellingly speaks of the monumental hurdles they had to overcome, the relentless drive he inculcated in the girls, and how Richard prized education, and their not burning out above all else. It’s nice to see the names of Venus and Serena as co-producers of the film. And you’ll appreciate how it doesn’t paint some picture from rose-tinted glasses, but also show the warts, egotistical approach, and stubbornness of their father. He’s still alive at 79 years of age, has retired from ‘coaching’, and has been estranged from their mother for decades now.

‘True Story’

True Story (Netflix USA) – To watch and complete this 7-episode Limited Series will basically answer the question of ‘Are you ready to watch Kevin Hart try & prove he’s effective in drama as well?’ While the series starts off-putting us in that frame of mind with Hart as The Kid just seated in a chair and talking seriously to the camera; we may be misled as the series officially opens with The Kid about to be interviewed by Ellen deGeneres, and it’s explained that The Kid is a big superhero star/stand-up comedian. Then on a commercial flight, we watch The Kid being approached by a white fan, who starts repeating his favorite ‘nigg-Ah’ jokes from The Kid’s routine. All well and good, and that includes our introduction to Wesley Snipes as Charlton, The Kid’s older brother in a Four Seasons presidential suite.

But beyond the chemistry between Hart and Snipes, we’re then led down a nightmarish rabbit hole of a crime thriller, and it’s asked of us to watch and absorb Snipes doing more of the comedic heavy-lifting, and Hart wanting to impress us with his straight dramatic turn. Does it work? If you love Hart and his work output, then you may be impressed by what he’s attempting to do here, and accept it at face value. If you’ve pigeonholed him as a comedian, prepare to be very disappointed as this isn’t a laugh-a-minute joyride; but a more existential examination of motivation, things we do and regret but have to commit ourselves to, and the price the Black man pays for fame and instant recognition. There’s just enough to keep us watching, but I don’t believe there’ll be a lot of drama scripts coming Kevin’s way.