Tennis: Documentary “Citizen Ashe” Explores Life of Arthur Ashe

tennis great Arthur Ashe
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Tennis is on the cinematic menu in 2021. First, we had “King Richard.” Now we have “Citizen Ashe,” the new documentary by directors Rex Miller and Sam Pollard about tennis great Arthur Ashe.

These releases have some things in common. Both films look at Black excellence in a sport that, as one talking head here points out, “was so White that even the balls and the uniforms were white.”

Richard Williams and Arthur Ashe were forced to practice on courts in their respective neighborhoods and had issues when trying to use or compete in Whites-only arenas. Ashe may have even been on Williams’ mind when he decided to point his superstar daughters toward tennis. Oddly enough, both movies have a societal position in their titles that describes how their subjects will be pitched to the audience; this is a much more down-to-Earth depiction befitting a “citizen” who just happens to be tennis royalty.

Before the Williams sisters, and after Althea Gibson, there was Arthur Ashe. Ashe was the first major Black male tennis star. According to Wikipedia, he’s also the only Black man to win the singles title at Wimbledon, the Australian Open and the US Open. That last event is held in the world’s largest tennis court, Arthur Ashe Stadium in Flushing, Queens.

After retiring in 1980 due to heart issues, Ashe became a coach and a sportscaster. On the activist front, he campaigned against apartheid in South Africa and, after contracting AIDS from a blood transfusion, he started the Arthur Ashe Foundation for the Defeat of AIDS. Eventually, he succumbed to the disease on February 6, 1993.

Miller and Pollard show us how all of this transpired, and it’s a lot more complicated than that brief synopsis indicates. For example, Ashe’s path to activism is far from a straight line, nor is it without a nuance that, at times, is fraught with controversy.

Read more.

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