“Who Is Stan Smith?”

A film about a tennis star often mistaken for a shoe.


“Who Is Stan Smith?” a documentary of the famed tennis star, plays at the M.V. Film Center on Saturday, May 11. Directed by Danny Lee, the film recounts Smith’s considerable tennis success. Smith won 39 singles titles and two Grand Slam titles. He won five U.S. and Australian Open doubles titles with Bob Lutz — one of the best doubles teams of all time. But most viewers will likely still ask “Who Is Stan Smith?” Smith’s on-court achievements happened more than 50 years ago, and his social and humanitarian efforts don’t garner much attention. 

Turns out, the longtime icon of the tennis world is known more for his signature, super-popular Adidas tennis shoes.

Obama, Jay-Z, and Pharrell Williams wear Stan Smiths, as do “drug dealers and hustlers,” Williams says in the film. They became the go-to shoe for art world aficionados, and soon after the movie begins, it becomes clear most “people only know Stan Smith as a sneaker.” What the movie attempts to do is turn Smith’s own statement — “Some people think I’m a shoe!” — into a mix of fashion and real-life heroism. 

Still very much alive, Smith used his tennis magic and fame for social causes. He and other male tennis stars boycotted Wimbledon in 1973, a year Smith was a favorite to win, to gain support for players’ rights. His work with other players, including Arthur Ashe, to create the National Junior Tennis and Learning organization led to hundreds of youth tennis chapters nationwide.

Smith’s efforts weren’t just national. He supported South African tennis player Mark Mathabane, raising attention against apartheid, and advocated for Romanian tennis superstar Ilie Nastase, as well as many other tennis players.

“Who Is Stan Smith?” is a sports movie, couched as a culture flick, masquerading as a biopic. The ideals of the 1970s have morphed into the social movements of the 2020s, and though Stan Smith the man, the tennis icon, may have faded, wearing a pair of Stan Smiths will bring you very much into the center of a cultural phenomenon. Putting a hero into a shoe seems to be one of the movie’s cultural aims — maybe that’s who Stan Smith is.

“Who Is Stan Smith?” plays Saturday, May 11, at 7:30 pm at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center. For tickets and information, visit mvfilmsociety.com.