Directors: Rex Miller, Sam Pollard
This lean, keenly-paced but substantive and compelling profile of US tennis legend Arthur Ashe, charts his career from comparatively conformist sporting figure to his political awakening and subsequent activism. Born in segregated Richmond Virginia in 1943, and raised by a very strict father, Ashe’s tennis prowess was spotted at an early age. Later he was offered places in the non-segregated St Louis Summer School and then UCLA, the latter in particular a far more welcoming environment for a young black man. The lone African American in the world of US Tennis, Ashe went on to achieve huge success, winning the US Open and Wimbledon. Initially, Ashe refused to speak out on contemporary civil rights causes leading some to accuse him of being an Uncle Tom figure. He became more strident when he became aware of Nelson Mandela’s anti-apartheid crusade, and his subsequent trip to South Africa, approved by black activists, cemented his reputation as civil rights spokesperson. Sadly, his career ended prematurely due to health issues. The picture sports a well-selected series of archive footage (and only very occasionally those annoying recreations), as well as interviews with his second wife, activists and fellow tennis player John McEnroe. Ashe, in old interviews, comes across as a diffident, thoughtful and authoritative speaker – a clip shows Barrack Obama citing him as an influence and their measured cadences are very similar. In an illuminating passage, Ashe reveals how, as a black man, he envied the freedom that the likes of McEnroe and Jimmy Connors had in being able to flex their ‘bad boy’ personas.