Review by Dan Skip Allen
The '60s were a tumultuous time for a lot of people of color, especially those in the South. Celebrities, singers, and athletes had a platform to make a change or fight for equality in those days. Arthur Ashe was one of those athletes that had a platform as a professional tennis player to speak up and speak out if he chose to.
As a younger man, Ashe showed what he could do on the tennis court. This got him seen by the tennis coach of UCLA and he offered Ashe a scholarship. This was like a life of freedom for him. He dated many women including white women. He enjoyed his time there in southern California. He then made a very important decision of joining the ROTC and ended up in the Army. This started to make his life more difficult.
When the death of Martin Luther King Jr. happened, this was a turning point for a lot of Black people in the country. That led to more killing at home and abroad in Vietnam. Ashe was at the center of this because of his beliefs. His tennis got in the way, though. This was his profession and the way he could speak on behalf of his fellow African American men and women. Winning matches and tournaments spoke volumes for Ashe and his message of equality.
This film has a lot of different techniques used to make this film what it was. The archival footage of old tennis matches was very good to show his ability on the court. The photos showing various people in his life, as well as newspaper clippings, helped move the story of this and life forward. Talking heads filled in the blanks for the rest of the story. The filmmakers did a great job getting to the bottom of his life in this film.
Ashe's personality was that of a very meek and mild man, but within that, he would speak in a way that got what he wanted to say out. His stance on Apartheid in South Africa was very staunch and he was considered persona non grata in that country. He believed in Nelson Mandela and his mission to stop the mistreatment of Africans in that country. This wouldn't be the last of the stances he would take on civil rights.
His career on the court was very good, but his rival Jimmy Conners sued him for libel off the court for saying he was unpatriotic because he wouldn't play in Davis Cup or join the tennis union. This caused a rift between them and they didn't get along with one another. This all came to a head at the 1975 Wimbledon Tournament final, where these two tennis legends played a great match. This was a huge moment for Ashe and America. Tennis was on the front page of the newspapers and was a household word.
This film showed what a leader and patriot Ashe was. His beliefs and battles he fought meant something to a lot of people as well as the game of tennis, which he loves and cares so much about. The film depicts this man and all his glory. The various ways the film was made to make a through-line to show this man's life was very good and effective. This documentary is another in a long line that gets to the bottom of a groundbreaking person in history. Ashe is that and this film tells his story very effectively.
Citizen Ashe hits theaters and VOD on December 3.