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Fight for Diversity in Public Service is the Heart in the Film ‘Shirley’

In “Shirley,” premiering on Netflix on March 22, Regina King once again proves she is one of cinema’s finest actresses.

Christina Jackson (left) portrays Barbara Lee and Regina King plays Shirley Chisholm in the film “Shirley.” Congresswoman Lee, who now serves California’s 12th congressional district, was a protégée of Chisholm. “Shirley” premieres on March 22 on Netflix. (Courtesy of Netflix)
Surrounded by an exceptional cast, this movie, written and directed by John Ridley IV, is about how Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm mounted her 1972 presidential campaign. Representing New York’s 12th congressional district centered in Brooklyn, Chisholm came to Congress in 1968. 

Taking on a presidential campaign with less than four years in office was an audacious act of confidence. Chisholm, as portrayed by King, was fully aware of her strong, often demanding personality, but she rarely backed down. 

The District’s congressional representative Del. Walter Fauntroy is portrayed by actor André Holland in the film “Shirley.” “Shirley” premieres on March 22 on Netflix. (Courtesy of Netflix)
As a public servant, Chisholm was committed to the vision she promised her Brooklyn community. She was coached on translating her local public service orientation to a national audience. 

Along the way, hurt feelings often occurred for the congresswoman and those around, but they became teachable moments.

For King and her sister Reina King, “Shirley” has been a 20-year project. The duo were co-producers and co-stars for the film.

“Reina and I first decided that Shirley’s story was one that was important to tell when we realized separately and together how many people did not know who Shirley was,” said the Oscar-winning actress in a Netflix interview. “Wait a minute, this is not right. When you hear just even the last name, Chisholm, you should think Shirley.”

Outstanding Performances in ‘Shirley‘

Knockout performances were delivered by the late Lance Reddick (“The Wire,” “John Wick”) in one of his final roles as Wesley “Mac” Holder, Chisholm’s fiercely loyal presidential campaign adviser. Tony winner Brian Stokes Mitchell (“Tick, Tick… Boom!”) was the presidential candidate’s political strategist and campaign manager, Stanley Thompson. Stage and screen veteran Michael Cherrie was Shirley’s supportive but increasingly strained husband, Conrad Chisholm. Oscar- and Golden Globe-nominated actor Terrence Howard (“Hustle and Flow,” “Empire”) played Arthur Hardwick, the campaign fundraiser and adviser. Oscar-nominated actor Lucas Hedges (“Manchester by the Sea”) portrayed Chisholm’s former intern Robert Gottlieb, who takes leave from Cornell to be her youth coordinator. For Chisholm’s campaign, these people were her core staff. At first, they questioned her sanity, but they were soon on board.

Another noteworthy performance that shines in “Shirley” is Reina King, who portrays Chisholm’s less-than-supportive sister Muriel St. Hill.

In the film “Shirley,” a campaign team is developed for Shirley Chisholm’s 1972 presidential campaign. (From left) Michael Cherrie played Shirley’s husband, Conrad Chisholm; Brian Stokes Mitchell was the presidential candidate’s political strategist; and Lance Reddick, in one of his final roles, plays Wesley “Mac” Holder, Chisholm’s campaign adviser. “Shirley” premieres on March 22 on Netflix. (Courtesy of Netflix)
Then there was a young Barbara Lee, played by Christina Jackson (“Swagger”). 

“Having Barbara Lee come and visit the set was definitely like she was giving us Shirley’s blessing in a lot of ways,” King said in her Netflix interview.

Lee was a Chisholm protégée recruited to work on the campaign. Jackson shows Lee as an advocate who does not trust politicians or voting. Lee was elected to Congress in 1998 and currently serves California’s 12th congressional district. 

Amirah Vann (“Queen Sugar”) plays multi-talented, award-winning entertainer Diahann Carroll. She came on the screen looking glamorous as expected. Vann conveyed she was “down for the cause” as she and Lee secured a surprise supporter for Chisholm’s campaign.

The actual connection for Washingtonians in “Shirley” was the depiction of D.C. congressional delegate Walter Fauntroy, portrayed by actor André Holland (“Moonlight,” “Passing”). Holland’s role allowed us to see what behind-the-scenes political maneuvering is. It was a “straight from the headlines” awakening.

Shirley’s ‘Unbought and Unbossed Spirit‘

“Shirley” is a fascinating depiction of how an intelligent, strong-minded woman overcame racism and gender bias to succeed in Congress. Though her presidential bid did not go as hoped, Chisholm influenced changes in local and national politics.

Entertainer Diahann Carroll, played by Amirah Vann (left), supported the 1972 presidential campaign of Shirley Chisholm, portrayed by Regina King (right). The actresses are in the film “Shirley” about the political rise of the iconic congresswoman. “Shirley” premieres on March 22 on Netflix. (Courtesy of Netflix)
“We thought it was better to talk about this lightning-in-a-bottle moment in American history,” said King. “That is what Shirley was, and we hope we brought her unbought and unbossed spirit to make this film.”

“Shirley” premieres on March 22 on Netflix. Producers for the film are Anikah McLaren and Elizabeth Haggard for Participant, Regina King and Reina King for Royal Ties Productions, and Ridley. 

Check out the movie trailer here.

Source: Washington Informer

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