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January 4, 2017

Venus and Serena

by Franz Patrick


Venus and Serena (2012)
★★★ / ★★★★

The reason why I love tennis more than any other sport is because once you get on that court, it is all up to you to fight for every single point. You must hit the ball with controlled strength, you must be incredibly fast to get to the ball, and you must be willing to take on calculated risks to surprise your opponent. In a lot of ways, it is as much a psychological game as it is a physical one.

I am a fan of Venus and Serena Williams because I see a part of myself in how they express their love for tennis, from how they are on the court to how they carry themselves during post-game interviews. I also identify with them exactly because they are black—minorities in a sport that is historically dominated by whites. The documentary, produced and directed by Maiken Baird and Michelle Major, captures their passion for the sport and it is a fascinating behind-the-scenes look into their lives in 2011: an important year because Serena has just undergone surgery and Venus has been diagnosed with Sjögren’s syndrome.

The film is organized and commands a breezy pacing. The first third focuses on the role of Richard Williams, Venus and Serena’s father, during the early stages of his daughters’ careers. He is entertaining to watch because he is tough, to the point, accepts no nonsense. Footages of the young Williams sisters are amusing because their energy is so effervescent, but at the same time the videos showcase their raw potential and how good they really were prior to joining the big leagues. So when important tennis figures like John McEnroe makes a comment about the rising stars, audiences—who may not even be familiar with Venus and Serena’s legacy—will have an idea.

We get a chance to see the subjects wrestle various emotional and mental states. They are simply themselves even when the camera is around, unafraid to be silly, make jokes, poke fun, offer a sarcastic comment. Perhaps the point in which the documentary is strongest involves the sisters dealing with stresses off-court. It completely dispels the idea that athletes are invincible physically and nothing gets to them emotionally and psychologically, that all they really do when they’re not playing is improving their skills by practicing.

It shows that these Amazonian women are people, too. It brings up an important discussion because many are guilty of objectifying public figures, especially those a part of the entertainment business, just because these people are on television and/or getting million-dollar deals. Subconsciously, many of us feel as though we own them on some level and so when these public personalities make a mistake—like yelling at a line umpire—they are skewered and judged. Some even result to making derogatory comments.

The movie emphases the pressures Venus and Serena deal with on a constant basis. At one point, while clearly upset after just having lost a match, Serena makes a remark that she is tired of having to pay for people around her all the time. She expressed that at this a rate, she might go broke. I wished that the directors had further explored the financial angle and how that aspect of fame tend to create tension and cracks among relationships. Still, I commend the filmmakers from not ignoring the topic completely because other documentaries involving popular icons tend to shy away from such a line of conversation.

“Venus and Serena” exudes honesty and instills inspiration. I can imagine young people watching the picture and feeling like they can accomplish their goals as long as they are willing to put in the hard work and make sacrifices. I admired that the material establishes that success—one that is fulfilling—doesn’t just occur overnight and that failure, as well as having the will to learn from them, is both an important and defining part of the process.

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