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

A still from ‘Shirley’

A still from ‘Shirley’
| Photo Credit: Netflix

Shirley begins with a graphic that says, “In 1968 there were 435 elected representatives to the House of Congress.” It goes on to say, “11 of those were women, 5 of them were Black and none of them were Black women.” The statements show what a pioneer Shirley Chisholm (Regina King) was when she was elected to the United States Congress from New York.

Chisholm strongly resists the Speaker of the House, John W. McCormack, assigning her to serve on the House Agriculture Committee, as she feels she cannot help the urbanites who voted for her. In 1972, Chisholm announces her decision to run for President. With barely enough funds, even with putting in her own money, the campaign runs on conviction and straight talk much to the despair of Chisholm’s campaign manager, Stanley Townsend (Brian Stokes Mitchell).

Chisholm’s husband, Conrad (Michael Cherrie), her mentor and advisor, Wesley McDonald “Mac” Holder (Lance Reddick), fundraiser Arthur Hardwick Jr. (Terrence Howard), intern and later youth coordinator and lawyer, Robert Gottlieb (Lucas Hedges), and angry, single mom Barbara (Christina Jackson) support Chisholm in her endeavour.

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: Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to United States Congress, runs for president

The movie, written and directed by Oscar winner John Ridley (12 Years a Slave), follows the main beats of the presidential campaign including Congressman Ron Dellums (Dorian Missick) letting Chisholm down, DC congressional delegate Walter Fauntroy (André Holland) reneging on his promise on a technicality, Chisholm visiting the very racist Alabama Governor George Wallace (W. Earl Brown) in hospital after he was shot, and the meeting with Black Panther, Huey P. Newton (Brad James), at the Hollywood home of actor and singer Diahann Carroll (Amirah Vann).

There is mention of the tension between Chisholm and her sister Muriel (Reina King) and of Chisholm’s “Bajan roots” referencing her Barbadian father and also the fact that she stayed with her sisters for a time with her grandmother in Barbados. While the period detail is eye-catching, it is Regina King’s magnificent performance that holds the film aloft. The Academy Award-winning King and director of the excellent One Night in Miami…. embodies the toughness, vision, canniness and grace needed to dream big and go for broke to achieve that dream.

Shirley is fascinating for the slice of life it shows of an extraordinary woman, who firmly believed in not accepting “things the way they are,” at a politically charged time.

Shirley is currently streaming on Netflix

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