Monday, March 25, 2024


Writer-director John Ridley (12 YEARS A SLAVE) has created a straightforward but nonetheless important biopic of the pathbreaking American politician Shirley Chisholm. It features a powerhouse performance by Regina King (IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK), ably supported by Terrence Howard (HUSTLE & FLOW) and Lance Reddick (The Wire).

Regina's Shirley is a self-motivated, powerful, centred, charismatic woman who fills every inch of the screen. It's testament to both the real woman and the performance that we somehow believe in her chances to take the Democratic nomination for the 1972 Presidential election. Those of us who know our US political history know that this battle was in some ways beside the point, because Nixon would go on to win in a landslide and probably would've done whoever the Dems put up against him. BUT Shirley's career importance is so much more than the immediate campaign or the proximate goal. She was the first black woman to be successful and visible on the political stage at a time when it was dominated by white men. She inspired a next generation of activist politicians. You don't get AOC without Shirley.

This film efficiently essays what Shirley was up against. The scepticism of her own Party - a lack of finances - opposition even from black MALE political leaders. Seeing her up against the DNC machine makes one think of how the cards were stacked against Bernie Sanders, or how somehow Biden remains on the ticket this year. 

But I guess in a way that's my criticism of the film. It's just all so efficient and competently made. There is no kinetic passion of the kind that MUST have propelled Shirley to continue against insurmountable odds. I guess I wanted a more imaginative freer hand at the helm of this film. But maybe the material is so important that is stifles that creative freedom.

SHIRLEY has a running time of 117 minutes and is rated PG-13.

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