Reinaldo Marcus Green’s sports drama “King Richard” is shaping up to have the same advantage that propelled “The Blind Side” to a best actress Oscar for Sandra Bullock. Its centerpiece is Will Smith, who’s now at the forefront of what is going to be a cutthroat best actor race. “King Richard” is the “Rocky” of tennis movies, but also the “Rocky” for every Black child that will watch this and be inspired to greatness in the future, the kind of inspiration our community doesn’t often see.
Smith is one of the most influential and successful ’90s movie stars who has yet to win an Academy Award. Along with Tom Cruise, Smith remains in the Oscar-less realm, 20 years after nabbing his first nom for Michael Mann’s “Ali” (2001), which he followed up with Gabriel Mucchino’s “The Pursuit of Happyness” (2006). Showcasing some of his finest moments as an actor, “King Richard” is such a crowd-pleaser, it’ll be difficult to not find room in your heart for its triumphant story of determination and dreams.
There have only been four Black men to win an Oscar for lead actor in the 93-year history of the Academy — Sidney Poitier (“Lilies in the Field”), Denzel Washington (“Training Day”), Jamie Foxx (“Ray”) and Forest Whitaker (“The Last King of Scotland”). Coincidentally, Smith lost his nominations to best actor winners Washington and Whitaker. The 52-year-old star is a credited producer on “King Richard,” so if the film were to be nominated for best picture in addition to best actor, he would be the second Black man to be nominated for acting and producing the same year, following Washington for “Fences” (2016).
Other multi-tasking actor-producers include Kevin Costner (“Dances with Wolves”), Leonardo DiCaprio (“The Wolf of Wall Street”) and Brad Pitt (“Moneyball”). Just last year, Frances McDormand became the first woman to double up, for “Nomadland,” winning both of the categories.
Emmy-nominated Aunjanue Ellis, who plays Venus and Serena Williams’ mother Brandi, could factor into the supporting actress category. Utterly worthy to join her is Saniyya Sidney’s as the young Venus, echoing that the future of Black cinema and its inclusion of Black women looks bright, and I can’t wait to see what she does next.
The original screenplay by debut screenwriter Zach Baylin is another plausible nomination since the Academy often matches up screenplay with the top category, especially in an expanded best picture era. Pamela Martin’s editing is noteworthy since the longer runtime hardly ever waivers, with the film keeping your attention throughout. And there will be plenty of star power in the original song race as Beyoncé Knowles-Carter pens the number “Be Alive” alongside DIXSON, who also produces the track. She could go the way of “Glory,” with the track providing a very uplifting conclusion to the film.
In a non-pandemic era, “King Richard” would be a box office goliath. Even in a pandemic, it still could be. The film opens in theaters and on HBO Max on Nov. 19.