‘Shirley’ : An Inspirational Maverick Is Revived Through Film

‘Shirley’ :  An Inspirational Maverick Is Revived Through Film

Filmmaker John Ridley, back in 2013, won an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay with the film 12 Years a Slave. Whilst making more feature films after that, eleven years later the writer-director returns to the big screen with another compelling story about the African-American plight in the United States.

Shirley retraces the inspiring journey of the first Black woman elected to Congress and political icon: Shirley Chisholm. The film chronicles her trailblazing run for president of the U.S., during her audacious and boundary-breaking 1972 electoral campaign. Her legacy echoes the issues tackled in our current affairs and the release of the Netflix movie serendipitously coincides with what would have been Shirley’s 100th birthday.

Regina King plays the titular character and has also produced the film. It was her labour of love, to which she dedicated 15 years with her sister Reina, who also produced it and acted in it. This incredible story was quite unknown to the masses, which triggered the sisters to make it into a film. They worked closely with a team of writers that included Sonya Winton, until years later the project landed in the hands of John Ridley. The emotional preparation, along with the historical research was outstanding. Regina King thoroughly studied every move, gesture and vocal inflection of Shirley Chisholm, whose accent was a combination of a woman who had lived in Barbados and Brooklyn. Also in terms of personality there’s an enthralling complexity about this woman: feisty, determined, patient, humorous, focused, unstoppable.

The cast that brings to life this important page in human history is phenomenal. Lance Reddick delivers a compelling Wesley “Mac” Holder, Shirley’s fiercely loyal presidential campaign advisor; Tony winner Brian Stokes Mitchell brings to life Shirley’s political strategist and campaign manager Stanley Thompson; stage and screen veteran Michael Cherrie plays the role of Shirley’s supportive, but increasingly strained husband Conrad Chisholm. Oscar and Golden Globe-nominated actor Terrence Howard acts as Arthur Hardwick, a fundraiser and advisor to Shirley’s campaign. André Holland is effective as D.C. congressional delegate Walter Fauntroy, and even more remarkable is W. Earl Brown, as Alabama governor George Wallace, who also sought the Democratic party nomination for president in the 1972 race. Oscar-Nominated actor Lucas Hedges gently brings to the screen Shirley’s former intern Robert Gottlieb, who took leave from Cornell to be her youth coordinator. Along these men, there are some formidable female characters brilliantly performed by an array of talented actresses. Reina King plays Muriel St. Hill, Shirley’s sister and one of her toughest critics. Christina Jackson had the responsibility of embodying Barbara Lee — a protégée of Shirley’s who worked on her presidential campaign — who was eventually elected to Congress in 1998 and currently serves California’s 12th congressional district and even visited the set while the film was in production.

Shirley shines a light on a trailblazing lady who has been ignored through time, but paved the way for inclusivity as much as Malcom X or Martin Luther King, if not more since she was also born female. Chisholm represents an example for our time, as producer Anikah McLaren has expressed: to be civically minded is timeless and yet feels as timely as ever today.

In John Ridley’s motion picture, the historical account blends stupendously with the universal message personified by this groundbreaking woman of colour. The ultimate take away is utterly galvanising, in line with Chisholm’s creed to be ‘unbought and unbossed.’ The picture is a beacon of hope and encouragement for the younger generation to dare to defy conventions and be a catalyst of change for the betterment of society.

Final Grade: B

Check out more of Chiara’s articles.

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