‘Shirley’ movie review: Regina King’s fine performance elevates an average biopic

Scene from the film ‘Shirley’
| Photo Credit: Netflix

The film Shirley opens with a powerful statement that sets the historical stage: “In 1968, the House of Congress had 435 members. Of those, 11 were women, 5 were African American, but not a single one was a Black woman.” This introduction accentuates the trailblazing achievements of Shirley Chisholm (portrayed by Regina King), who was elected to the U.S. Congress representing New York.

One can feel Chisholm’s defiance as she stands up to Speaker John W. McCormack’s attempt to place her on the House Agriculture Committee—a role she views as unsuitable given her commitment to her urban electorate. In 1972, she makes the bold move to seek the presidency, relying on a campaign fueled by passion and straight-shooting candor, despite being severely underfunded. Chisholm’s campaign manager, Stanley Townsend (played by Brian Stokes Mitchell), is shown grappling with these financial challenges.

The narrative also pays homage to the personal and professional network surrounding Chisholm, including her husband Conrad (Michael Cherrie), mentor Wesley McDonald “Mac” Holder (Lance Reddick), financier Arthur Hardwick Jr. (Terrence Howard), intern-turned-lawyer Robert Gottlieb (Lucas Hedges), and the resolute single mother Barbara (Christina Jackson), all of whom supported her presidential bid.

Shirley (Tamil)

Director: John Ridley

Cast: Regina King, Lance Reddick, Lucas Hedges, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Christina Jackson, Michael Cherrie, André Holland, Terrence Howard

Runtime: 117 minutes

Storyline: The first Black woman elected to the United States Congress, Shirley Chisholm, campaigns for presidential election

Helmed by Academy Award-winning director John Ridley (12 Years a Slave), the movie takes us through the key episodes of Chisholm’s campaign, including betrayals by fellow politicians like Congressman Ron Dellums (Dorian Missick) and disappointment from DC delegate Walter Fauntroy (André Holland) due to a loophole. Chisholm’s courageousness is on full display, even in her visit to racist Alabama Governor George Wallace in the hospital post-assassination attempt, and in her encounters with icons like Black Panther leader Huey P. Newton and entertainer Diahann Carroll.

Of note is the film’s exploration of Chisholm’s personal life, from the tensions with her sister Muriel (Reina King) to her Barbadian heritage, proudly linked to her father and experiences in Barbados. Regina King’s portrayal is nothing short of breathtaking, capturing Chisholm’s fortitude, foresight, shrewdness, and elegance with an award-winning magnetism previously seen in her directorial work, One Night in Miami….

Shirley offers a riveting look into the life of an exceptional figure, who stood steadfast in her conviction to challenge the status quo during a tumultuous political era.

Shirley is now available for viewing on Netflix.

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