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Sport Opinion: New Arthur Ashe documentary reveals how tennis icon transformed activism in America

03:02  03 december  2021
03:02  03 december  2021 Source:   usatoday.com

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A new film looks at Arthur Ashe ’s US Open and Wimbledon triumphs. And how he responded to pressure to speak out on civil rights issues. Meanwhile, Ashe had been facing both external and internal pressure to speak out on civil rights. After growing up in the segregated South, he had been concerned about a violent backlash. But after winning the US Open, he was ready to become more vocal, according to a new documentary , Citizen Ashe , directed by Rex Miller and Sam Pollard.

During his momentous tennis career, Ashe won three Grand Slam singles titles and became the first-ever Black player to join the United States Davis Cup team. He retired in 1980 and died of AIDS-related complications in 1993. His impact on the sport is only surpassed in esteem by his off-court activism on behalf Using a blend of archival newsreel and family footage, Miller and Pollard will illustrate Ashe ’s personal evolution from his early days being raised by his single father after losing his mother at the age of seven. Viewers will discover how Ashe ’s elegant technical form helped him play at the highest of

Early on in “Citizen Ashe,” a new documentary from CNN Films and HBO Max, young Arthur Ashe tells legendary broadcaster Howard Cosell, “I’d rather be an American and slightly discriminated against than anything else.”

It was quite a contrast with the way emerging Black athletes of the 1960s like John Carlos or Muhammad Ali talked about racism and civil rights at a time when America was roiling with unrest over a changing social order. And it led many prominent Black voices at the time, including sports sociologist and activist Harry Edwards, to initially view Ashe as a so-called Uncle Tom.

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A new documentary on the life and career of tennis great Arthur Ashe called “Citizen Ashe ” is in the works for CNN Films and HBO Max. “Citizen Ashe ” will be co-directed by Rex Miller and Sam Pollard (“4 Little Girls”) that will explore Ashe ’s legacy on the court breaking barriers for Black athletes as well as off the court as an activist Arthur Ashe , who would have turned 78 this month, is the only Black man to win the singles title at Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and the Australian Open and was once ranked No. 1 in the world. He retired from tennis in 1980 and died of AIDS-related complications in 1993.

Arthur Robert Ashe Jr. (July 10, 1943 – February 6, 1993) was an American professional tennis player who won three Grand Slam singles titles. He was the first black player selected to the United States Davis Cup team and the only black man ever to win the singles title at Wimbledon

Arthur Ashe holds his Wimbledon trophy after defeating Jimmy Connors in the men's singles final in 1975. © Shutterstock via AP Arthur Ashe holds his Wimbledon trophy after defeating Jimmy Connors in the men's singles final in 1975.

“A lot of people thought that about Arthur Ashe,” said Sam Pollard, who co-directed the film with Rex Miller. “Even I thought it back in the ‘70s. ‘Oh yeah, Arthur Ashe? He didn’t do much.’ But as we learned in the film, he was doing much more than I ever imagined.”

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When Miller set out five years ago to make a film about Ashe, who emerged from segregated Richmond, Virginia, to become the No. 1 tennis player in the world, he had no way of knowing that Ashe’s lifelong journey toward activism would be such a relevant topic today.

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Arthur Ashe participates in a hearing on apartheid, at the United Nations in New York. Photograph: Bettmann/Bettmann Archive. We remember Ashe for his electrifying talent. On the tennis court, he had always been prone to fits of reckless play, going for broke with shots that defied logic or sense. Off the court, particularly in his later years, Arthur Ashe almost always went full-out. He did so not because he craved activity for its own sake but rather because he wanted to live a virtuous and productive life.

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Almost from the opening credits, the filmmakers establish a very obvious through line from Ashe to the various ways in which Black athletes are using their prominence and voice to advocate for social justice, particularly following the George Floyd murder and the protests that followed in 2020.

“More and more of them who speak out today, Sam and I agree, are standing on the shoulders of Arthur,” Miller said.

But as the film details, Ashe, who died in 1993, felt that he had to take a gradual approach to issues of race largely because of the sport he played. Eventually, he would become associated with significant social issues, including a years-long campaign against South African apartheid and later the AIDS crisis in America. But until he won the U.S. Open in 1968 — five months after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. — Ashe was hesitant to publicly jump into civil rights issues, at one point even rebuffing Edwards’ attempts to recruit him into the movement.

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Also Read: Arthur Ashe Documentary Spotlighting Tennis Legend’s Racial and HIV Activism Set at CNN Films and HBO Max. On a tennis court — he practically grew up one one, since family home in Richmond, Virginia, stood on park grounds his caretaker father oversaw — the lanky, regal and intelligent baseliner spoke with his racquet, breaking through with a smoothly overpowering game and an unruffled presence. That calm demeanor was initially no accident, however: To have any chance in the Jim Crow South as a Black tennis player in the ‘60s — as Ashe ’s contemporaries from that era

“Citizen Ashe ,” a new documentary about tennis star Arthur Ashe , is as interested in its subject’s political evolution as it is in his heroics on the court. Ashe was one of the top tennis players in the world for much of the 1960s and ’70s, winning the U.S. Open and the Australian Open and becoming the first and, so far only Black man to win a singles title at Wimbledon. But he also helped transform the sport and the idea of professional athlete as political advocate in important ways. “Everything he did on the tennis court was classy, and that carried over off the court,” says Sam Pollard, who co-directed the film.

“In Arthur’s words, he was the raisin in the rice pudding,” Miller said. “In track and field, which had a very vocal group of athletes, there were a lot of African-Americans and in 1968 you could say the same thing about all the major league sports. But Arthur was really the only person of color in men’s or women’s tennis at the highest level, so he always felt he had to go about it very pragmatically.”

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Eventually, Ashe earned the respect of the leading Black activists of the 1960s and 1970s, even though his approach and sometimes his views did not line up with theirs.

“It proves that African Americans, be it athletes or every day people, aren’t monolithic,” Pollard said. "We all approach life in different ways, and this film gives you an opportunity to see a legendary sports figure who approached his notion of being a sports figure and an activist in a different way than an Ali or Bill Russell or Jim Brown.”

For much of the 96-minute film, which will debut in New York theaters on Friday with a wider release on HBO Max and CNN slated for next year, Ashe is the narrator of his own story. As Miller and Pollard researched materials from his estate stored at the Schomburg Center in Harlem (New York), they found a transcript of interviews Ashe had done with Arnold Rampersad, who co-wrote Ashe’s memoir “Days of Grace.”

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In a twist of good fortune, Rampersad had saved 33 hours worth of microcasette recordings from those conversations, which lend a richness and authenticity to the structure of the storytelling. Miller and Pollard also had the cooperation of several family members, including his wife, Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe, and his brother, Johnnie, who served a second tour in the Vietnam War so that Arthur would not have to go during his early ascent to the top of the sport.

Arthur Ashe documentary © Courtesy Magnolia Pictures/CNN Films/HBO Max Arthur Ashe documentary "Citizen Ashe" will be shown on CNN and HBO Max in 2022.

The family provided some never-before-seen home movies, and at the end of the film, Moutoussamy-Ashe openly discussed many of the difficulties the family went through after Ashe was forced to reveal publicly in 1992 that he had contracted HIV through a blood transfusion during a 1983 heart bypass surgery. He died less than a year later of an AIDS-related illness.

Though it would be incorrect to say “Citizen Ashe” is primarily about Ashe’s tennis career, it is featured prominently in some interesting and surprising ways, beginning when he arrived at UCLA in 1963 and began to discover a much different social structure than the one he had grown up with in Virginia.

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And as the film follows him through the most productive years of his career, it’s impossible not to notice the contrast between Ashe, who took on the aura of a Black traditionalist with his grace and stoicism on the court, and the brash up-and-coming American stars John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors. Largely because of the color of his skin, Ashe didn’t have the privilege of ranting and raving like they did and being stereotyped as the "Angry Black Man."

“I internalized things,” Ashe said.

Though McEnroe appears in the film several times, Connors declined to participate. In many ways, the climax of the story occurs in 1975 when Connors filed a libel lawsuit against Ashe, who had called Connors “unpatriotic” for declining to represent the U.S. in the Davis Cup competition and instead playing exhibition matches for guaranteed money.

The lawsuit was filed right before Wimbledon, and as it turned out, they would meet in the first All-American final in nearly 30 years. Played just before his 32nd birthday, Ashe knew it was likely his last chance to get a long-coveted Wimbledon title but had lost all three previous meetings against Connors.

So for the final, Ashe employed a surprise tactic, playing a lot of slow balls down the middle of the court to take away Connors’ angles and force him to generate his own pace. That was a departure for the typically aggressive and powerful Ashe, who won in four sets to become the first Black man to win Wimbledon.

That match earned Ashe his third and final Grand Slam title, but in many ways his impact on the world was just beginning.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Opinion: New Arthur Ashe documentary reveals how tennis icon transformed activism in America

Peng Shuai situation explained: EU calls for 'full' investigation into Chinese tennis star's allegations .
The European Union also requested 'verifiable proof' of Peng's safety in a Tuesday statementThe former French Open and Wimbledon doubles champion claimed retired Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli forced her into sex three years ago in a since-deleted online post to the Chinese social-media site Weibo. Peng has not been seen in public since, aside from a heavily-scrutinized video Chinese state media released of her at a Beijing restaurant on Saturday and an alleged video call with the president of the International Olympic Committee on Sunday.

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