In Reviews

December 3rd, 2021

MOVIE: CITIZEN ASHE

STARRING: ARTHUR ASHE, JOHN MCENROE, HARRY EDWARDS

DIRECTED BY: REX MILLER, SAM POLLARD

AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 3 STARS (Out of 4)

There were only three athletes that made a cultural impact in my early ages. It was Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Arthur Ashe. Jordan because he was the greatest basketball player ever and the most charismatic. The other two were both men that unwillingly made a massive impact in the world. At a time where the stigma was high and the number of lives already lost was painful, it was in the 90’s where Magic Johnson revealed that he had the AIDS virus, and one-year later, the great Arthur Ashe revealed that he was also struggling with the AIDS-HIV virus. Both incredible athletes, competing at the highest level of their sports, and now they were impacted by this deadly disease. These were two known names in the public eye and new communities began to wake up to the serious nature of the disease, pushing against the vile claims that it was a disease for “gay men only”, but a virus that impacted all of us. And that’s just one of the many reasons why Arthur Ashe deserves his own documentary. Citizen Ashe is a profile highlighting a man that evolved in his ways, learned from his struggles as a young man, both on and off the court, and proved to the world that a black man could thrive in the tennis community. Yes, Arthur Ashe was a wonderful person and a great tennis player, but he was also something to strive for. He was a model Citizen.

As far as documentaries go, Citizen Ashe is not changing the way a profile story is told, including the talking heads, mixed in with a plethora of material, post matches, or footage of press appearances. What becomes the best part of Citizen Ashe is the deeper dives into his own personality, his mind, and his courage in the face of the disease. The talking heads range from John McEnroe to civil rights activist Harry Edwards, but the biggest impact is Ashe’s wife Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe. What directors Rex Miller and Sam Pollard do is balance the sports, the social justice, and the personal life of the person. He was more than just a statistic of the first Black man to win Wimbledon or the first Black man to be selected to the Davis Cup team. Those things are great accomplishments, but it was more impressive how he methodically became a powerful voice in the world. He avoided the traps set by an inherently racist society.

Where negative criticism can enter into Citizen Ashe is how standard it feels. Unlike what Julia did for Julia Child or what Sam Pollard did with MLK/FBI, this can feel like a standard bullet point doc. That issue would hold more weight if Arthur Ashe had less depth to who he was. That credit belongs to the work of Miller and Pollard, revealing deeper facts about Ashe, looking for his place in his family, working over time to perfect his style of play, and the baton he ran with to bring tennis to Black communities. With the arrival of King Richard this award season, it’s refreshing to see a documentary honoring a person who could be called a true inspiration to Black men & women playing tennis today. Ashe cemented himself as a tennis great and still hasn’t received enough credit for his accomplishments.

The third act of Citizen Ashe is where the light of Ashe begins to flicker, where his age, and his body begin to fail him on the court. It is the discovery of him having a faulty heart condition that would lead to his retirement, and his eventual AIDS diagnosis. It’s that revelation, where he received a blood transfusion which caused his contraction of HIV/AIDS, which sent shockwaves to the tennis community. It’s also another example of Ashe’s fearlessness. He was a man that took every challenge head on, from racism, representation for Black men/women in his sport, and the fight for his life.

Citizen Ashe helped me see more of who Arthur Ashe was. He should be a hero to so many and this documentary also reveals the beauty in his marriage with wife Jeanne. The two of them were peas in a pod. Artists of different passions, her with photography, and him on the courts. That is a massive achievement of life and when a documentary does a good job. I walked into Citizen Ashe respecting Arthur Ashe and left the production viewing him as a hero. You want your children to grow up and be like Arthur Ashe. You look at the entire model of a man and say to yourself, “that’s what it means to be something.” That’s who Arthur Ashe is to me, not just a great athlete, but a great human.

CITIZEN ASHE IS NOW PLAYING IN SELECT THEATERS AND EVERYWHERE DECEMBER 10TH, 2021

3 STARS

Written by: Leo Brady
leo@amovieguy.com

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