The new documentary film on the Williams sisters, “Venus and Serena” (pictured left and right), provides a dramatic and provocative behind-the-scenes look at lives of the two sisters who have dominated the women’s tennis world for more than a decade.
by Lynette Holloway
Fans and critics alike will develop a deeper understanding of the discipline and determination that recently helped the Williams sisters lead the United States to victory in the Fed Cup World Group playoffs in Delray Beach, Fla., guaranteeing America a spot in 2014. The film, which was made available on iTunes earlier this month, is scheduled to debut in theaters on May 10th.
“My parents told me I’d be No. 1 in the world,” Venus said in a clip of the film made by ABC News veteransMichelle Major and Maiken Baird. “I was brainwashed.”
If that is brainwashing, then perhaps more parents need to follow the lead of Richard Williams andOracene Price, who coached their daughters to the top, Major told NewsOne. The film shows them doing drills with their father, which included running and throwing tennis rackets.
“The film is a great lesson for parents,” Major said. “You can help your kids be the best they can be. I really, really want to have kids so that I can inspire them similarly. There was a lot of love. I feel that I had that advantage growing up too.”
In one scene, Richard interrupts a television reporter who repeatedly badgers Venus about the confidence she expressed before a match, saying she had already told him once that she was confident about winning.
“She told me that her father was defending her,” Major said. “You can’t really see that from the clip, but she was really being badgered.”
Indeed, Richard, known for his outbursts, which he gifted to Serena, had a plan for the girls from the start.
“I’d written a plan before they were born, 78 pages,” he says in a clip in the film.
The film isn’t particularly revelatory for anyone who is familiar with their story, but what it does do is put a human face on a pair of winners who pulled themselves up from the streets of Compton, Calif., to winning more than 20 major singles titles and becoming the first sisters to hold the top two spots in tennis at the same time.
It also highlights fun and intimate details of their lives, such as showing them discussing marriage, horsing around in the Miami home they share, and singing karaoke — ahem, it’s a good thing they are superb tennis players.
“Venus and Serena” also chronicles the talented duo through a tumultuous 2011, when they were dogged by health problems. It opens with Serena’s pulmonary embolism, and shows her being led to surgery at a hospital. It also follows her post-surgery ups and downs, especially as she struggles with a drainage tube attached to her abdomen after a hematoma.
Viewers get to see the women working toward recovery.
The film shows archival footage of the Williams sisters in their early years, including training with their parents and with coach Rick Macci, and Venus’s first professional match. It also shows their command over women’s tennis and their Grand Slam finals against each other. They say in the film that their father trained them to compete against themselves and each other, which is how they developed their game.
“It was Richard who is the reason they won,” Major said. “He trained them unconventionally. The entire family would be on the court during their training for up to five hours a day. It was all to support Venus and Serena. I’m enraptured by the young footage of the girls and also that of Richard. You can’t take your eyes off of him because he is so determined.”
Major brushed back early criticism of the film that said that the sisters didn’t support it, a claim that is backed by subsequent media reports. The film premiered at the Toronto Film Festival and has also been shown at DOC NYC, the Montclair Festival, and the Miami International Film Festival.
Major, who worked for years as a television news producer for “Diane Sawyer,” “Good Morning America,” and ABC, got a hankering to do a film as a budding journalist, after seeing clips of interviews of the sisters and their dad.
“Venus was 14 and Serena was about 13,” Major recalls, “and I remember talking to the producer. He said Venus is great, but her little sister is going to be so great.”
Despite setbacks, neither player has shown signs of wanting to slow down.
“Venus doesn’t want to retire until she’s 40, and Serena has said she doesn’t want to retire until she physically cannot play anymore. That is what’s going to happen. Serena is getting better every day and Venus is learning to master her autoimmune disease and could get back on top as well.”
Recently, Serena, 31, helped rally the women’s team to an important win at the Fed Cup World Group along with Venus, 32, who was already on the team. Both scored a third gold medal in doubles at last year’s London Olympics.