Courtesy of Smarani Komanduri/MiC.

Let’s get one thing straight: Serena Williams is the greatest tennis player of all time. This is a hill I’ll stand tall on any day. She broke barriers in her field, winning 23 Grand Slam titles and four Olympic gold medals. Not to mention, she won the Australian Open in 2017 while 8-9 weeks pregnant. Serena and her sister, Venus, have paved the path for female athletes, especially Black female athletes. Having this much admiration for the Williams sisters, I knew I had to watch “King Richard”, a biopic about how their father, Richard Williams, played by Will Smith, coached them to be the two greatest tennis players of all time. I went into the movie with very little context when I first watched it. The only context I had was from my older brother: A critique he had was that Will Smith didn’t look like Richard Williams. After he gave his critiques, he followed up with the fact that he knows more than the average person about Richard Williams. I assumed it was because he also admires Venus and Serena Williams – after all, he’s the tennis player in our family, not me or my younger brother – but he mentioned how it was because our father was inspired by Richard Williams. Keeping this comment in the back of my head, I started watching the film. Immediately, I couldn’t help but see my father in Will Smith’s portrayal of Richard Williams, from his demeanor, to his relationship with his wife, to his core values as a father, all the way down to his posture. 

It’s important to note that the root causes of the forthcoming microaggressions addressed are different — Richard Williams and his family experienced stereotypes, assumptions and harassment due to being from the Black community in a lower-income city. My father, and by extension, my family, dealt with assumptions and microaggressions derived from being immigrants in a predominantly-white community. The experiences of racism are undoubtedly different, as are the root causes. However, I couldn’t help but resonate and draw parallels with the emotions displayed in the film. 

Spoilers ahead.

Throughout the film, it’s evident that Richard Williams pushed his daughters to be successful in every aspect of their lives — whether it was academics, athletics or in their social lives. Similarly, my father pushed my brothers and me to be academically successful, to keep in touch with our culture and to always have fun. He understood the importance of keeping the balance in life, navigating work and fun. In addition, he encouraged us to find fun within our work. When we were in elementary school, our father encouraged us to play outside and hang out with our friends every day. He also made sure we spent time during the day practicing and memorizing our multiplication tables. My father turned these multiplication tables into games to play in the car. A memory my father shares of him and my older brother is that every time they would drive somewhere together, my father would ask a random multiplication question like “what’s six times seven?” and see how quick my brother could answer, turning our academic work into a game we could have fun with. 

Richard Williams did the same for his children. The film shows that he made sure his children practiced tennis every day and got their homework done every night for school. During matches, he reminded his daughters that the only thing they were there to do was to have fun. Outside of tennis and school, he encouraged them to watch movies, sing together and, at one point in the film, he even took them on vacation to Disneyworld. He allowed his children to be children and have a fun childhood while also pushing them to be academically and athletically the best. 

Richard Williams made it clear in the film that all he wanted was for his children to live a better life than he lived. He told his daughters that he was never respected growing up, but that they would be respected. My father has the same aspirations for his children, in that he wishes for us to live a better life than he did. My father moved to the United States from India, leaving behind his family, his friends and the life he grew up knowing. He migrated to a country in which he knew no one and had to overwork a job he would get underpaid for, all while learning to speak a brand new language. He made countless sacrifices just to ensure his children would have an easier time navigating the world. 

In the film, Richard brought Venus and Serena home from a rainy night practice one night. They were welcomed by police cars outside their house and officers inside. The officers explained that their neighbor had filed a complaint that the family was being too rough on their daughters. During the scene, one official asked Richard, “Isn’t it too late for practice, don’t the kids have school work?” Brandy, Richard’s wife, jumped in and said, “They do their homework,” and explained how her daughters are first in their class. Richard explained to the officers that they’re hard on their kids because they “have to be to keep them off these streets,” referring to their poverty-stricken and crime-ridden neighborhood in their hometown, Compton. I’m privileged enough to say that I’ve never had to interact with the jarring and audacious police force in the same way that the Williams family had to as depicted in this film. However, the notion of a third party over-stepping into their family’s personal lives and decision-making felt a bit familiar, although in a different context.

There was an incident where a teacher at my middle school called my parents one night. This particular teacher was leading an information session on standardized tests. 

I nervously walked into the room where the information session was being held. I caught the glances of all the other older students in the room and immediately felt my body shrivel up. There was a teacher at the front of the classroom with a stack of papers on a desk, and a line of students in front of her. I quietly stood in line and twiddled my thumbs, avoiding eye contact with the other students before I eventually made it to the teacher and her desk.

“Hi there, what’s your name?”


The teacher immediately looked puzzled. I could feel the students behind me in line becoming impatient as the teacher squinted her eyes, shuffling through her papers before eventually pulling them closer to her. I tried to look over to see what the papers were and caught a glimpse of what looked like a roster of some sort, showing a list of a bunch of students’ first and last names.

“The last name is Komanduri, K-O-M-A-N-D-U-R-I,” I added. I figured the roster was alphabetized by last name and hoped I could speed up the process for the teacher.

She still looked confused, and I felt my palms clam up more and more.

“Alright, go ahead and have a seat.”

I quietly let out a sigh of relief and made my way to the back of the classroom and allowed my heartbeat to return to a normal pace after having it beat out of my chest. 

As the session wrapped up, and I frantically gathered my things to leave, the teacher stopped me.

“Oh, sweetie, could you hang back for a sec?”

I slowly paced over to her desk as all the other students made their way out the door, taking a final quick glance in my direction hoping to also hear or see why the teacher asked me to stay back. 

After what felt like ages of waiting, the teacher finally asked, “so you’re in sixth grade?”

“Yes.” Even with just my one word response, I heard my raspy voice tremble with fear.

“Hmm, okay, so that’s why your name isn’t on the roster here. This is a list of all of the eighth graders.”

I was instantly relieved. I let out a soft nervous chuckle before turning to leave. Before I could do so, the teacher followed up with one last request.

“Could you just give me your parents’ phone numbers?”

My eyebrows furrowed, and my mouth slightly opened. 

How often do teachers ask for your parents’ phone numbers? And either way, don’t they have access to them already? Isn’t there a directory for this sort of thing? 

Although I was hesitant, I didn’t want to pick a bone with a random teacher I’d never met.

“Like, our house phone number?”

“Yeah, that’d be great.”

I proceeded to monotonously recite our house phone number as the teacher scribbled it down on some white space at the top of the roster she was clutching onto before the meeting. Later that evening, my parents told me that they had received a call from that teacher.

My parents didn’t go into detail about the conversation that transpired, but they gave me the overview:

They exchanged pleasantries before the teacher jumped right into the meat of the conversation. This teacher said right away how she was confused as to why I was attending the information session as a sixth grader. My parents explained that they believed – and I believed – that I was ready to take a standardized test just for the experience. There was nothing in it for me other than the fact that I felt that I was ready. She immediately started to explain to us how she thought our parents were pushing us too hard. She said something along the lines of: “I don’t know why your people push your kids so hard.” And then continued, “my parents never pushed us that hard, and look at us — both my brother and I are extremely successful in our lives. I’m a teacher, and my brother is in the Army.”

My parents thanked her for calling and sharing her thoughts. They couldn’t help but simply laugh off the call. We didn’t even know where to start when she referred to our family as “your people,” insinuating a more sinister meaning. It’s a common stereotype — misconception, rather — that Desi parents force their children into certain activities. In my case, this couldn’t be further from the truth. My parents have never forced me to do anything, let alone force me to go to an information session on standardized tests. To have a fully-grown adult woman use these microaggressions against our family is something I still have a difficult time processing. She thought that she had the right to dictate how our family runs things in our house. My parents have aspirations for us that they’ve made countless sacrifices for, and for someone on the outside to come tell us that this shouldn’t be the way we run things was infuriating.

Another particular scene that struck a chord with me is a scene where Richard and his family decided to relocate to Florida to further Venus and Serena’s tennis training. Richard and Brandy packed up their entire lives in Compton and drove all the way to Florida. My father had done something similar. Our family moved around a lot when we were children, and the biggest move we’ve had to make was moving from Los Angeles, Calif. to Grand Rapids, Mich. My parents packed up their life in Los Angeles and whatever we could fit into our car came with us. Even the way Richard Williams in the film hunches his shoulders when he drives his car resembles my dad to the T when he drives.    

This analysis of Richard Williams in “King Richard” wouldn’t be complete without mentioning his relationship with his wife, Oracene “Brandy” Price, played by Aunjanue Ellis. In the film, we see Brandy be nothing but supportive of her husband’s aspirations for their daughters, since she also feels the same way. Similarly, my mother shares the dream with her husband that her children will be successful and live a better life than she did. 

During a scene in the film, Brandy reminded Richard that although it may seem like he’s doing all of the dirty work for their daughters, she’s been nothing but supportive in the journey. This scene is a lot more dramatic than how I’m describing it, but the core ideas resonate with me and my family. Though it may seem like our father is the one directing us on what to do, our mother plays an equally important role in our upbringing.

“King Richard” tells the story of how two of the greatest athletes rose to the top of their careers through the efforts of their family. Although we’re no Olympians, my brothers and I are able to navigate our lives a lot easier than my parents were able to, all thanks to their sacrifices. Like the Williams sisters, all we aim to do is make our families proud and show that their sacrifices were not made for nothing. 

MiC Columnist Smarani Komanduri can be reached at