Skip to main content

Shirley (PG-13) ★★★★

By March 24, 2024April 2nd, 2024Backstage Pass

Here’s the best component of the movie “Shirley”—Regina King, the star who portrays Shirley Chisholm. Hands down, she embodies her actions, timing, and subtle nuances. Think Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth in her Oscar-winning performance in “The Queen.” Yes, she’s that good. And honestly, in a biopic, the subject has to be great, and here she is.

Oscar winner King won Best Supporting Actress in “If Beale Street Could Talk” (2007); here, she plays the first Black congresswoman, Shirley Chisholm, who in 1972 ran for President of the United States. In the film’s narrow time frame, we learn of her determination, as her performance garners honesty, power, and decisiveness to the legacy of Shirley Chisholm by delivering a captivating performance. Saying, “I’m paving the road for a lot of other people like me to get elected.”

Certainly, her statement holds true. Women wouldn’t be where we are today without those who broke barriers and blazed trails for others, and former Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm is undeniably one of those pioneers. In 1968, of the 435 elected representatives to the House of Congress, 11 were women, five were Black men, and none were Black women until Chisholm was elected. She had higher aspirations, and she made her dreams come true by compiling a group of people who would help her Presidential campaign.

Wesley “Mac” Holder, Lance Reddick, in one of his final roles, is her campaign advisor. He’s always looking on the safe side, while Shirley pushes him to take a risk. Their chemistry together is excellent to view. Stanley Thompson, Brian Stokes Mitchell, is her political strategist and campaign manager who questions whether she even has a chance at winning. Robert Gottlieb, Lucus Hedges, a former intern, is her youth coordinator, playing a wide-eyed newbie, who changes in strength and confidence as Shirley guides him to believe in himself. Lastly, Arthur Hardwick, Terrence Howard, a fundraiser and advisor to the campaign, is very supportive and her sounding board.

Director John Ridley blends in Chisholm’s family drama and her experiences with her strained husband Conrad, Michael Cherrie. Her sister Muriel St. Hill, Reina King, who is her actual sister and one of her toughest critics, is rude to her. We view her heartaches and stresses as she navigates her campaign, giving us a broader view of her as a person.

Director John Ridley keeps politics flowing as Chisholm makes deals with people in Washington. Walter Fauntroy Holland, a D.C. congressional delegate, is a question mark, as she never knows if she can trust him to secure more votes. King and André Holland are captivating to view, as their bogus smiles and chit-chat are all part of the game. We’re also reminded of the violence during that era, when Governor George Wallace was shot, leading herself and her campaigners with a new set of worries.

Upon finishing Shirley, you’ll be in awe of this trailblazing woman and the strength and courage she displayed in fighting tooth and nail for her place in the race. Ridley does a fine job of portraying a strong woman who can be considered a positive role model for all women. I appreciated her independent thinking and actions. Yes, she needed a team, but in the end, there was no male savior.

The Q&A afterward was insightful as actress and the film’s rising star, Christina Jackson, was in attendance. Also, the President and CEO of the Chicago Urban League, Karen Freeman-Wilson, Obama Foundation Executive VP/Chief Legal and People Officer Alfreda Bradley-Coar, moderated by WBEZ reporter Natalie Moore.

Cast: Regina King, Lance Reddick, Lucas Hedges, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Terrence Howard, Reina King, Christina Jackson.

Rating: PG-13

Genre: Drama, Biography

Director: John Ridley

Writer: John Ridley

Runtime: 1h 57m

Studio: Netflix

Sarah Knight Adamson© March 24, 2024