Venus VS.: Director's Moment
About the film
"Venus VS.," directed by Ava DuVernay, examines how tennis star Venus Williams challenged the long-held practice of women tennis players being paid less than their male counterparts at Wimbledon. With a deep sense of obligation to the legacy of Billie Jean King, Williams lobbied British Parliament, UNESCO and Fleet Street for financial parity. And it was her poignant op-ed column in The London Times that convinced many people that the Wimbledon tournament organizers were "on the wrong side of history."
Click here to learn more about the film and DuVernay.
Venus' early battle
One pivotal scene from "Venus VS." is from the 1999 Australian Open. Venus Williams was facing top seed Lindsay Davenport in a quarterfinal match when a point was called against Venus for causing a disturbance after beads fell out of her hair as she served the ball. Williams argued the call with chair umpire Denis Overberg and tournament referee Peter Bellenger. Williams lost the argument, and ultimately the match, but the incident showed a side of her the public may not have seen before -- Venus standing up for more than herself, standing up for more than a service point.
"The game wasn't just reacting to a player with height and speed and power," ESPN.com columnist Howard Bryant said about the incident. "It was reacting to a black woman with height and speed and power, who was not going to defer to the cultural mores of a time, because that culture did not accept her."
DuVernay wanted the scene to play out in the film because of what it represented.
"You saw the early kind of dignity, strength, fortitude, bravery of [Venus]," DuVernay said. "And so it's not a surprise that that blossomed into kind of full-blown activism in being the champion of the very game that oftentimes treated her not as well as it should have."Back to top »
DIRECTOR'S TAKE: DUVERNAY ON 'MOMENT'
"Venus VS." director Ava DuVernay explains the importance of the 1999 scene:Back to top »
Back to top »Venus Williams wanted to take this on and was willing to take whatever came back at her because of it. Most players don't want to step up that much anymore. They don't want to get in trouble, it's their branding. ... So for Venus to step up took a lot of courage.Billie Jean King on Venus Williams' speaking out on pay equality