This well-meaning doc should have done more with Arthur Ashe’s story.
It used to be white people playing tennis, until an African-American named Arthur Ashe (1943-1993) changed that perspective. Despite all the racial slurs and discriminations, these players were all willing to expand their horizons on the tennis courts. When African-Americans become sport legends like Muhammad Ali or Kareem Abdul Jabbar, they can be an inspiration for the community.
“Citizen Ashe” is the doc to tell his story like it is with directors Sam Pollard (“MLK/FBI”) and Rex Miller, but it doesn’t dig deep into his life the way his story deserves to be told. It has truth, and it has perspectives, but it didn’t speak the me the way “MLK/FBI” did.
Arthur was the first person of color to make the Davis Cup Team, whose white members saw him as a tennis player, and not a person of color. Dr. Robert Johnson was a physician who helped black people become tennis pros, and Arthur was one of those people to get help from him. And after failed attempts, Arthur finally beat Jimmy Connors at Wimbledon. Connors was the arrogant Number 1 tennis player, so this was challenging for Ashe, but it also informed African Americans about this tournament.
Arthur was a supporter of the Civil Rights movement, His father was more of an authority figure, who didn’t believe in violence or protests. When he heard word about 14-year-old Emmitt Till being lynched for allegedly looking at a white girl, he knew the harshness of segregation. He was disillusioned by the announcement of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination. He used tennis to let kids know they can make a difference in this world. And eventually, he arrested for protesting outside the Embassy of South Africa.
He and his brother Johnnie both joined the army, but with different perspectives as Johnnie went to Vietnam, while Arthur focused on his tennis career. However, the army gave him the opportunity to focus on both things, which is why they stationed him at West Point.
In 1980, he suffered from a heart attack, which forced him to retire from tennis, and to make matters worse, he contracted the AIDS virus from a blood transfusion during a heart bypass surgery. This would not only lead to his tragic demise, but also him supporting the fight against the disease.
“Citizen Ashe” uses unreleased archival footage and recordings of the interviews, most of which come from both Arthur and Johnnie, and they’re edited with the right images and at the right moments. Even Arthur’s photographer widow Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe explains about her connection and relationship with her husband.
But there’s too much details in a short frame of 90 minutes to stay focused. I was able to grasp about his gaming skills and condition, and they’re emotionally affected, but this doc should have gone deeper, instead of just coming and going. “King Richard,” the biopic about Venus and Serena Williams, was longer and more courageous in its own retelling of how Richard Williams was both hard and loving on his girls to get them to where they are today. I know it’s not conventional for me to praise a biopic over a documentary, but this one was more patient and consistent.
“Citizen Ashe” has its heart in the right place and it knows the late tennis player, but I was expecting more out of it.
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