Williams sisters: Up close and disputed

2013-03-31 10:00

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“Discover the truth behind the legends” is the payoff line for an anticipated new documentary on Venus and Serena Williams, the two working class California girls who transformed the game of tennis both on and off the court.

But the truth has not set the sisters free.

Although it was initially authorised by them, the documentary, Venus and Serena, will be released in the US next week without their backing.

The project caused a stir at the Toronto Film Festival late last year when the Williams sisters refused to attend the world premiere after a reported fallout with the producers over the portrayal of their father.

That hadn’t always been the case.

Famously guarded about their private lives, the sisters opened their homes and hearts to the documentary’s female directors, who recorded intimate behind-the-scenes interviews for 20 months.

These were set against the backdrop of the 2011/12 tennis season.

Venus and Serena were recovering from injuries and fighting their way back to the top of the game.

But it’s the backstage drama that trumped the on-court action.

In the documentary, directors Maiken Baird and Michelle Major spend time with the tennis stars’ father and coach, Richard Williams.

They show his new wife and out-of-wedlock children that split the family apart, and reportedly paint him as ruthlessly ambitious.

“I’d written a plan before they were born,” he tells the camera.

“It was 78 pages. The plan was for both of them to become number one in the world.”

The interview is intercut with footage of the two as young girls in beaded corn rows hammering balls on court and present-day interviews with them glamorously styled.

“My parents told me I’d be number one in the world. I was brainwashed,” jokes Venus in one scene.

She wasn’t laughing when she saw the finished product though.

It was reported in the LA Times that Venus was the one most opposed to the documentary and who asked for changes to be made.

The film makers were apparently only willing to tweak one or two scenes.

The film paints a picture of the influence and iconography of the ground-breaking African-American icons who became the greatest siblings ever to play the game.

It includes interviews with a range of observers – including Bill Clinton, Billie Jean King, John McEnroe and Anna Wintour.

The documentary will be available on iTunes from Thursday.

City Press was not immediately able to establish whether it would be sold in the South African iTunes store.


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