Monday, April 15, 2024

“SHIRLEY”

THE STORY – In 1972, the first-ever Black congresswoman, Shirley Chisholm, launched a trailblazing campaign to become the president of the United States.

THE CAST – Regina King, Lance Reddick, Lucas Hedges, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Christina Jackson, Michael Cherrie, Dorian Crossmond Missick, Amirah Vann, W. Earl Brown, Brad James, Reina King, André Holland & Terrence Howard

THE TEAM – John Ridley (Director/Writer)

THE RUNNING TIME – 116 Minutes


We wouldn’t be where we are today without those who broke barriers and blazed trails for others, and former Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm is undoubtedly one of those giants. In 1968, of the 435 elected representatives to the House of Congress, 11 were women, five were Black, and none were Black women until Chisholm was elected.

It’s no wonder, then, why she is the latest trailblazer to receive her own biopic, and one led with massive star power. With another terrific performance from Academy Award winner Regina King, along with Lucas Hedges, André Holland, Terrence Howard, and the late Lance Reddick, this cast brings a standout story to life. “Shirley” may be fairly conventional in the telling of Chisholm’s 1972 presidential campaign, but it’s a story that encourages perseverance, especially as we look to our troubling global political times.

Brooklyn Rep. Shirley Chisholm was ready to make a change for her community the moment she was elected to Congress, and she wasn’t going to let anyone stop her, not even when she was initially assigned to serve on the House Agriculture Committee. It’s a great introduction to this powerhouse leader, portrayed wonderfully by a no-nonsense King, to show how much she means business. It should come as no surprise, then, that her thirst for doing more would eventually lead to her wanting to run for president in 1972.

It’s here where “Shirley” assembles its Avengers, if you will. Joining Chisholm on the campaign trail are Wesley “Mac” Holder (Reddick, in one of his final roles), her campaign advisor who isn’t afraid to push back as hard as she pushes him; Stanley Thompson (Brian Stokes Mitchell), her political strategist and campaign manager who is never entirely convinced she has any shot at an actual race; Arthur Hardwick (Howard), a fundraiser and advisor to Chisholm’s campaign who is one of the most supportive people in her camp; and her former intern Robert Gottlieb (Hedges), who becomes her youth coordinator. They might not be the exact definition of a “dream team” when it comes to running a presidential campaign, but each actor brings such life and gravitas to their roles. As Chisholm interacts with each man, we see new sides to the politician and to King’s magic as a performer. With Gottlieb, she’s a strict but loving mentor; with Holder, she’s stubborn, but for good reasons; with Thompson, she tolerates him until she reaches an explosive moment; and with Hardwick, there’s something sweet and delicate brewing between them, although neither can act on it.

The film takes viewers on a very informative journey regarding navigating presidential campaigns. While some might think it would be too jargony and not very amusing, writer-director John Ridley keeps it easy to follow and highly dramatic (politics is basically theater…just look at our elections lately). Chisholm has to make deals with people like D.C. congressional delegate Walter Fauntroy (Holland), someone she never knows if she can trust, to secure more votes. King and Holland are riveting to see on screen together with their pleasantries and fake smiles. Ridley also stays true to showing just how, unfortunately, dangerous Chisholm’s presidential run was back in the ’70s, which included constantly being face-to-face with racists, going so far as to attempt to assassinate her. Impressively enough, it doesn’t seem to faze her. She knows just how historic and important this moment is for those who look like her, and her sacrifices have led to 10 other Black women running for the highest office in the nation.

Mixed in with all the campaigning is a family drama with Chisholm’s experiences with her supportive but increasingly strained husband Conrad (Michael Cherrie) and those with her sister and one of her harshest critics, Muriel St. Hill (Reina King). These quieter but still tense scenes come at welcome times to break up all the political action and give us even more insight into Chisholm’s life. The scenes the sisters share are particularly heartbreaking, as the strain on their relationship runs deep and seems impossible to fix.

“Shirley” is anchored by a fantastic cast who bring their all to their roles. While the film may follow similar beats as other biopics, its concentration on Chisholm’s presidential run allows us to get a deeper look at this icon and appreciate the sacrifices she made for all those who came after her.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - Regina King shines again in another wonderful performance, showing Shirley Chisholm's many sides. Supporting cast members Lucas Hedges, André Holland, Terrence Howard, and the late Lance Reddick also bring so much life to their roles. John Ridley keeps his script vastly entertaining and informative while also spotlighting all that Shirley Chisholm risked with her presidential run.

THE BAD - It's conventional in the telling of Chisholm's 1972 presidential campaign.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - None

THE FINAL SCORE - 7/10

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Ema Sasic
Ema Sasic
Journalist for The Desert Sun. Film critic and awards season enthusiast. Bosnian immigrant

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<b>THE GOOD - </b>Regina King shines again in another wonderful performance, showing Shirley Chisholm's many sides. Supporting cast members Lucas Hedges, André Holland, Terrence Howard, and the late Lance Reddick also bring so much life to their roles. John Ridley keeps his script vastly entertaining and informative while also spotlighting all that Shirley Chisholm risked with her presidential run.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>It's conventional in the telling of Chisholm's 1972 presidential campaign.<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b>None<br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>7/10<br><br>"SHIRLEY"