Citizen Ashe Review – Engaging Portrait of the Tennis Great, A Winner

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Citizen Ashe, from Magnolia Pictures and CNN Films, presents the story of tennis great Arthur Ashe, who rose from a segregated south practicing on a Blacks Only tennis court to stun the world with his presence on the court.

Recently premiering at the 2021 AFI film festival, Citizen Ashe begins with images of Arthur Ashe at Wimbledon, the elusive crown that always seem to be evade him. He was skilled, talented, and considered a gentleman on and off the tennis court. He was also black, in a predominately white sport, where as the documentary explains, "everything was white, from the sneakers to the tennis shorts the player wore," the sport was white. And then came Arthur Ashe.

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Born and raised in a segregated Virginia, Arthur Ashe learned to play tennis on a Black Only tennis court, adjacent to his home and managed by his father and namesake, Arthur Ashe, Sr. Throughout the documentary, we learn more about his family, his mother passed away when he was six, and he had few memories of her. His brother, Johnnie Ashe, was dedicated to his brother's success, even if it meant sacrificing himself.

We also learn even champion tennis players were subjected to the systemic racial hatred that was prevalent in the America culture then. Ashe, and his teammates were no different. In order to further his tennis, he moved St Louis to complete high school, and out of the blue, one day the tennis coach from UCLA called and asked him if he wanted to play tennis for the Bruins, in Los Angeles. It would be a move that would change his life, his thinking, and his future.

It was sunny L.A. in the 1960s and Ashe was freed from the constraints of the Southern culture which had always placed him, due to his race, beneath. He explains the freeing feeling of life in California and how everything about him changed, including his tennis.

Citizen Ashe also depicts the growing cultural clashes as African American were boycotting demanding equality. As a rising tennis talent, Ashe felt the best way to protest segregation was by integration, way through being an example.

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The film is cut with great moments of tennis, when for these brief moments we see Ashe on the court, dominating the sport and the elusiveness of the coveted Wimbledon crown. John McEnroe is featured as is Jimmy Connors, the man who would prove to be Ashe's most challenging competitor.

The documentary travels across Ashe's life, and into what many would call a second act. No longer a competitive player he is coaching and moving into new life with his future wife, Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe.

Oddly, after the strenuous training that absorbed most of his life, one Saturday morning at a local Tennis club, in NYC, he experienced chest pains. A physician at the court immediately assessed the situation and Ashe was in the hospital in minutes. Not only did he have a heart attack but was diagnosed with heart disease that required surgery. He required blood transfusions.

New York City, at this time was also struggling with the AIDS epidemic and the extent of it had not yet been realized. Ashe received tainted blood during his heart operation. Sometime later he was diagnosed with AIDS.

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Early in his career Ashe had been criticized for not doing more to address racial strife in America until the events of 1968, when he became an outspoken civil rights activist in the fight against racial discrimination, South African apartheid and later the stigma surrounding HIV and AIDS.

This insightful documentary includes exclusive interviews with Ashe's family, Black activists and tennis cohorts Billie Jean King and John McEnroe. Citizen Ashe celebrates the inspirational life of this groundbreaking tennis champion and humanitarian.

Citizen Ashe commemorates the life and time of the great Arthur Ashe. An absorbing and engrossing documentary. See it!

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Year: 2021.

Runtime: 94 minutes.

Language: English.

Country: USA, UK.

Director: Rex Miller, Sam Pollard.

Producer: Rex Miller, Beth Hubbard, Anna Godas, Steven Cantor, Jamie Schutz.

Cast: Arthur Ashe, Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe, John McEnroe, Billie Jean King, Harry Edwards, Johnnie Ashe.

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