The sports film ‘King Richard’, which won a clutch of Oscars in 2022, is a great deal about parenting
The biopic ‘King Richard’ is as much about a particular style of parenting as it’s about success in sports. June 1, 2022 is ‘Global Day of Parents’ as per the UN. To mark this occasion, it would be interesting to explore King Richard’s parenting style.
Based on the life of Richard Williams, father of tennis legends Venus and Serena Williams, the movie has taken some liberties. It portrays the controversial Richard in a better light than the media has shown him over the years.
Played by Will Smith (which fetched him an Oscar for best actor), Richard is shown as a persistent, dedicated father (read ‘controlling’). In fact, he reminds you of Aamir Khan’s character in Dangal. Aamir Khan was portrayed as a father who wants his own aspirations fulfilled through his daughters and disciplines them harshly to that end.
Richard Williams is set in the same mould. He decides early in their lives that his daughters, Venus and Serena, are champion material. In fact, he has prepared a detailed plan for them even before they are born! He and his wife start training them at the tender age of four. They girls have no choice in the matter. His motivation seems to be to ensure his daughters succeed so that he can pull the family out of poverty.
Way back in the 1960s, development psychologist Diana Baumrind deduced that there are four common parenting styles. They are: authoritative, authoritarian, permissive and neglectful.
The similar sounding ‘authoritarian’ and ‘authoritative’ are actually very different parenting styles. The common feature: in both, parents expect their children to be achievers. An authoritarian style is characterized by control and stern discipline. The parent expects to be obeyed without question.In contrast, an authoritative style of parenting (which is considered the best of the four types) is more democratic. Here, parents set rules and boundaries after discussions with their children. Children are given freedom and are encouraged to be independent.
What style of parenting did Richard Williams follow? A mix of authoritarian and authoritative would be a reasonable answer. Williams made his daughters work after school hours despite their gruelling tennis training. His motivation (as described in the movie) was to keep his children away from drugs and gangs, apart from earning some money. This even made a neighbour complain to the authorities that he was abusing his daughters by making them work too hard.
But before a match, Williams would tell his daughters to both win and ‘have fun’. This is more in line with the authoritative style of parenting. And, he was never shown being even verbally abusive to his children.
The backdrop of poverty and racism makes the movie a touching rags-to-riches story. Richard is a security guard while his wife Oracene is a nurse. Initially, they are unable to find a coach for their daughters. So, Richard, who has no professional tennis training himself, trains them with some help from Oracene. But he does not give up. His sheer relentless pursuit of what he wants, and his belief in his daughters, enables him to find high-profile coaches.
Richard is shown as being shrewd and manipulative (with coaches and other sports figures). He is extremely interfering and takes all the major decisions for his daughters, including pulling Venus out from junior tournaments, ostensibly to prevent burnout.
Venus was just 15 when she became the first African American woman to be ranked number one. Serena went on to win an incredible 23 Grand Slam titles. Both Serena and Venus reportedly gave their approval for the movie and the way their father is portrayed in it.
All in all, Richard Williams is a parent with focus. He wants his daughters to be champions and is obsessed by that ambition. However, he invests a great deal of time in his daughters. Their struggle is his struggle. One cannot help saluting him for this.