‘Venus and Serena’ Documents the Lives of Tennis’ Super Sibs at Laemmle’s Royal Theatre

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The lives and careers of tennis’ super sibs Venus and Serena Williams make not only a great sports story but an inspiring American success story as well.

But what makes the film “Venus and Serena” feel special is the archival footage of the girls. They were just young children, playing on the courts of South Los Angeles, when their father gave prophetic interviews about how one day these girls would be No. 1.

Yeah right.

Yet from the streets of Compton, where tennis is far from a plausible sport for most kids, Richard Williams leads the drills for his then pre-teen girls, and provides a sense of where they came from–and just how instrumental their father was in getting them to where they are today.

Their story isn’t all Ozzie and Harriet. The filmmakers, Maiken Baird and Michelle Major, touch on how the Williams family dynamic changes over the years, the struggles of being African-American in a mostly elite white sport, and what they face nearing the end of their competitive careers as illness and injury start to take a toll.

At the heart of the film is a drama-filled 2011 season, with behind-the-scenes interviews and footage of the big matches and rivalries. But what a coup to have images of the young, wide-eyed athletes, before anyone realized that they would become two of the most dominant players in the world.

Opening this weekend at Laemmle’s Royal Theatre in West Los Angeles, as well as the Magic Johnson Harlem and Village East Cinemas in New York, the film has the added appeal of having great production values, a well-told story (directors-producers Baird and Major both have extensive TV news and documentary experience) and the music of Wyclef Jean.

Some distressing issues that the girls face are not always fully explained, such as the perceived classicism and racism on the tennis circuit. Rarely do we hear specific examples of incidents that occurred to the Williams sisters.

Richard Williams does say in interviews, “It’s us against the world,” and it’s obvious that the family came from outside elite tennis circles to land at center court. What’s unclear is if that attitude comes from his own personal experience as a Black man, or from obstacles that his daughters faced along their journey to the top players in the game.

From this viewer’s perspective, it’s heartening to see how Venus and Serena were able to be each other’s biggest supporter and best competition. It is sad to think that they are considered outsiders in their sport, regardless of whether it’s because of their actions or others’ reactions.

Still, it’s fun to get to know tennis’ spectacular siblings, understand a bit more about their private lives, and see how their close-knit family has been the foundation beneath their successes.

Journalist Laurie Schenden covers the entertainment industry, with many of her notable celebrity interviews appearing in the Los Angeles Times and other national and international publications. As a longtime columnist and feature writer for the LA Times, she also covered events and California destinations for the lifestyle, Outdoors and Travel sections. Laurie Schenden's international pieces include the long-running Where Are They Now celebrity feature for Spotlight Magazine, published in five languages. Laurie has also contributed to numerous documentary films, and produces content via Saving Grace Films.

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