Actress Aunjanue Ellis, who plays Venus and Serena Williams’ mother, Oracene “Brandy” Williams, talks to Guideposts.org about the new biopic on the Williams sisters’ tennis legacy and their father, Richard Williams.
Posted in , Nov 16, 2021
The names Venus and Serena Williams are synonymous with tennis. Arguably the most popular siblings in the history of professional sports, the two have made a shattering impact in the world of tennis. Venus is a seven-time Grand Slam singles title winner, while Serena has held the title twenty-three times, more than any other woman or man. Together, the sisters have won fourteen Grand Slam doubles titles and three doubles Olympic gold medals.
What many people don’t know is that, in addition to Venus and Serena’s dedication, talent and skills, their father, Richard Williams, was instrumental in helping them reach their potential. King Richard follows Williams (Will Smith), as he trains his daughters on the tennis courts of Compton, California during their teenage years, eventually helping them become two of the most talented athletes of all time. But their success was also in large part thanks to their mother, Oracene “Brandy” Williams (Aunjanue Ellis), who not only helped train them, but served as the family’s backbone.
“Richard was the architect of their careers, but Ms. Oracene was the builder of that,” Ellis told Guideposts.org. “She was on the tennis court just as much as he was, but she also was cooking, cleaning, holding down jobs, sewing their dresses, doing their hair—the things that mothers do.”
Oracene’s guidance and intuition helped the family get through hard times, particularly moments of defeat.
“Ms. Oracene tried to keep the kids grounded as much as possible,” Ellis said. “Grounded but at the same time [she] gave them wings.” During a turning point in the film, Richard struggles to not only listen to, but trust his daughter until Oracene steps in. “She was always a protector, a warrior for her children,” Ellis added. “She protected her girls from the world’s—and sometimes their father’s— demanding expectations.”
Venus and Serena have shattered every glass ceiling in the world of sports, while creating a legacy that’s inspired more Black children to play tennis. Thanks to their parents, the sisters remain connected to their roots. In one scene, Oracene is seen braiding Venus’ hair before making her professional debut at 14. “With them wearing those beads on the court, that was her way of saying, ‘Listen, you come from a long line of black women achievers,’” Ellis said. “And when they walked on the court, she was insisting that they carry that history with them.”
Throughout the film, Richard and Oracene are also shown going out of their way to ensure their kids have a childhood, even letting Venus miss an important practice for a family day at Disney World. This parenting approach, Ellis said, is one she admires. “They insisted that Venus and Serena be children first before they were tennis players,” she said. “They wanted them to be highly-educated, excel at school and go to church. And you can see that in the women that they’ve become now.”
A driving force for the family, especially Oracene, was their faith. “I think that was a guiding principle for them,” Ellis said. “Faith is at the core of their family life and particularly for Ms. Oracene, influencing not just the mother she was but the wife that she was—it was central to all of that.”
Ellis, who has had a valuable family experience of her own, is inspired by the tight-knit and trusting relationship between Richard, Oracene and their five daughters.
“I think that’s what’s so great about the Williams family,” she said. “They loved each other. Their weapon against a world that would often attack them was their love for one another.”
King Richard, directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green, is available in theatres and on HBO Max starting November 19th.