This writer has been lucky enough to visit three of the four Tennis grand slams in his lifetime( he will get to Melbourne Park one day.) In terms of show court experience (in this fans opinion) Arthur Ashe Stadium at Flushing Meadows, New York is the best around. Beyond having the stadium in his name, the very bare-bones and importance of Arthur Ashe’s life career and death should be relatively well known to casual tennis fans. A huge part of his legacy to younger fans will be the stadium at Flushing Meadows. If new viewers want a good entry point into the man’s story this documentary from HBO and CNN Films is a good starting point. It offers an engaging if straightforward overview of the man’s achievements as a player and activist in a brisk 94 minutes. When the filmmaker’s credit Billie Jean King and John McEnroe in talking-head interviews as nothing more than “ Grand Slam Champion”, it becomes even more clear that the piece was designed as an accessible entry point. This is perfectly fine. It might lack the focus of a film like Strokes of Genius or the personal anecdotes and perspective one might get from a “ Tennis Relived episode of The Tennis Podcast but that is fine. On some level criticising a documentary for not being thorough enough to please an audience it wasn’t designed for is a little pointless. What can be decidedly criticised here is the very generic presentation. The material is solid enough but this feels like the sort of production that HBO and CNN could knock out in their sleep. Solid but unspectacular talking head interviews. Engrossing but unspectacular archive footage. This is is the bread and butter of sports documentaries. Arthur Ashe’s career and life deserve a much more thorough examination, honouring and general coverage. Citizen Ashe is decidedly not the documentary to do that. It’s a very standard piece of work examining and celebrating a life that was very far away from the ordinary.
Citizen Ashe is a compelling but basic entry point, into one of the most important figures within the history of tennis. There’s a much better, more comprehensive documentary to be made on Ashe as a figurehead later down the line. Citizen Ashe is solid enough when judged as the rather straightforward summary it set out to be. It is a solid introduction for newcomers but ultimately it feels like the kind of sports documentary that CNN Films and HBO can crank out very easily . A figure with such importance from a tennis, race and activism perspective deserves better.