Arthur Ashe was born in a heavily segregated area of Richmond, Virginia, in 1943. Twenty years later, he became the first player drafted to join the United States Davis Cup team. Seventeen years later, he retired after having heart surgery but was the only black man to win a singles title in tennis at Wimbledon, the US Open, or Australian Open (and one of two men to win any Grand Slam singles title).

Co-directed by Sam Pollard and Rex Miller, Citizen Ashe catches critical moments in the African American tennis champion’s career. Still, the race and discrimination aspects loom significantly throughout the entire runtime. Ashe himself thrusted directly into the civil rights struggle, joining the likes of Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X. His life became now defined by racial disputes and the municipal responsibilities of any black athlete.

It’s an innovative approach to recognize how a black man would attempt to succeed in a dominating white tennis world. He passed along the ability to play basketball or track to be the “Jackie Robinson” of the racket sport. It’s not an aggressive route he took; instead, it stood calculated as he sought to speak out concerning the heinous inequality and disdain for any colored classes. The feature weaves in his on and off-court life, balancing his brilliance yet inner turmoil.

Old photographs, home movie footage, and interviews from Ashe’s family, Billie Jean King, and Lenny Simpson give the documentary vibrance. Each act contains vital messages about Ashe’s journey as a tennis player, his sensitivity towards gender equality, and how it sadly ended with him dealing with major cardiac issues that led to his retirement and death. Even the assassination of MLK becomes addressed, something that always stays painfully essential in civil rights history. The words and videos are equally candid and pensive.

No one can deny Arthur Ashe’s contributions to the sport decades ago. Many stay directly inspired by his commitment to the social issues plaguing the world and his passion for tennis. Current players like Colin Kaepernick, Lebron James, and Serena Williams all strengthen Ashe’s legacy. It’s more than one black player; it’s a cultural resonance.  

Whatever he left on the court proves how it is progressing than when he initially started playing in Brookfield Park in the 1950s. Citizen Ashe is a rewarding watch.

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