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The HBO Documentary Being Serena gives audiences an intriguing look at the insecurities and vulnerability of the greatest tennis player on tour, Serena Williams.

Williams allows the cameras free reign as they depict the significant life changes unfolding in the coming months. Fresh off a win at the Australian Open, Williams is shocked to learn that she’s pregnant with her first child. Alexis Ohanian (her fiance and founder of Reddit) is thrilled by the news, but anxiety begins to creep in for the both of them. Williams and Ohanian are highly skilled in their respective professions, but have no clue about what’s in store for them. None of the documentary comes off as forced or trivial. The new parents let their guard down in front of the cameras allowing audiences to pseudo travel with them throughout this life-changing event.

Being Serena

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The topic of fear is prevalent during Being Serena. Williams is a top-class athlete, who isn’t intimated by anyone so feeling scared about what’s to come is a foreign feeling. She even touches on it in the first episode of the series. Her worries range from whether she will be an excellent mother to even the actual delivery. The series makes excellent use of the one-shot allowing our subject to speak directly to the camera in a conversational manner. It enables viewers to develop attachments to these people and for the emotion of each moment to resonate

Much like the Andre The Giant documentary, Being Serena doesn’t seek to glorify Williams. Both documentaries attempt to normalize these larger-than-life figures and make them relatable. These shows are less about her championship pedigree and more about who they are as individuals. Showing the world such vulnerability speaks to the kind of person Williams is.

My favorite moment from the documentary was the discussion about the complications surrounding her pregnancy. We find in the first episode just how close she was to dying. After the delivery, she developed a pulmonary embolism which restricted Williams ability to breathe. As the emergency begins to unfold, Ohanian quickly begins show signs of helplessness. Nurses acted quickly and put her on oxygen. They wheeled her back to the X-Ray tech, but the images showed nothing was wrong. Williams was relentless as she advocated for further tests which resulted in finding the clot in her lungs. She had to go through three separate surgeries to rectify the issue. By sharing that moment, Being Serena gives a great example of why women must remember to always advocate for themselves, especially in matters of health.

While HBO hasn’t provided us with more the two episodes of the series, it’s easy to see how impactful Being Serena could be. By Williams allowing the camera to chronicle these delicate moments, it shows women they aren’t alone. Everyone goes through these similar moments as we have kids and especially when we get married. Fear and angst are just some of the rainbow of feelings we feel during these times regardless of gender. However, it’s the joy we all sense in the end which makes it worth it. Being Serena begins May 2nd at 10 pm on HBO.

Dewey Singleton - Film Critic
I'm a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and have been doing reviews for many years. My views on film are often heard in markets such as Atlanta, Houston, and satellite radio. My wife often tolerates my obsession for all things film related and two sons are at an age now where 'Trolls' is way cooler than dad. Follow me on twitter @mrsingleton.
being-serena'Being Serena' give audiences an intimate at some of life's most precious moments