On The Line | Review | Tribeca Film Festival 2022


Stuart McClave's On The Line lands after the Richard Williams story hit cinemas earlier this year in King Richard, starring Will Smith as the loving patriarch who raised Serena and Venus Williams to tennis fame. The documentary digs into themes explored in Reinaldo Marcus Green's film of racism, prejudice and classism with world-famous names such as Rick Macci, Pam Shriver, Cori Gauff, Katrina Adams and Billie Jean King to narrate the story. 

It starts in the history of tennis, known and described as a "white sport", and discusses how high the odds were stacked against Venus and Serena, who grew up to be "Great out of Compton". While acknowledging the location's history of brutality, it positions the family as well-respected and centres on the community raising the girls alongside Richard, amplified further when he later returns to Compton. Greeted with praise and adulation, many acknowledge that "Most people that's famous don't come back home". 

More than anything, On The Line is a story of resistance and resilience. McClave captures the hypnotic joy found in the highs and the deep sorrows of the lows with equal balance. The film explores Richard as a father and a person while contextualising Richard's upbringing against the prominence of the KKK in the 50s and 60s. McClave does well to position the fact that racism is not "old news" in sport, having white people say to camera in real-time that tennis is "an open-minded sport", declaring that they "have not seen racism in tennis" while a wealth of archive footage suggests otherwise.

It anaylses sporting culture and the unprecedented vitriol Richard and his daughters faced and continue to face. Having 80-year-old Richard contribute himself adds urgency to the issue, showing how even though Venus and Serena rose to fame in the early 2000s, there is still so much work to be done.

For a first-time director, McClave must be commended. He has created the definitive doc on Richard Williams. There is not a stone unturned, and the archival footage makes the film what it is, and that credit must be given to Richard for always being one step ahead, knowing that the day would come when this footage would be gold to a filmmaker who wanted to tell the story of the brilliance of him and his daughters. 

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