Directed By John Ridley

Starring – Regina King, Lance Reddick, Terrence Howard

The Plot – The intimate portrayal of trailblazing political icon Shirley Chisholm (King), the first Black Congresswoman and the first Black woman to run for President of the U.S., and the cost of accomplishment for Shirley herself. This film will tell the story of Chisholm’s boundary-breaking and historic presidential campaign, based on exclusive and extensive conversations with family, friends and those who knew her best.

Rated PG-13 for strong adult language including racial slurs, brief violence and some smoking.

SHIRLEY | Official Trailer | Netflix (


Once again, a biopic has gone the recently popular route of focusing on a condensed time in the life of its titular figure, instead of crafting a lifetime biography, and what this does in the case of “Shirley” is allow it to cut out the barrage of predictable tropes and cliches that burden so many of these films to interchangeable waters. It also emphasizes Ridley respect for Shirley, in that he helps articulate not only the void among minorities who felt voiceless at the time of this political period, but also the assertive and imposing nature as a radical for change that she maintained as a legitimate threat to be reckoned with. Ridley also appreciates those moments of downtime between our political firestorm, with Shirley casually indulging in peaceful serenity during Mcdonald’s lunches, or the dynamic she shares with her husband Conrad, which unfortunately takes a turn for the worst inside of so much time and attention being paid to her groundbreaking campaign, giving us a vivid picture of the trailblazer, without downright telling us anything and everything there is to know about her character-building background. In addition to this, the archival footage during key transitions in the depths of the campaign inscribe a timely relevance to the proceedings that isn’t always paid off by the film’s flawed production values. Aside from translating the political jargon in dialogue that can ineffectively disconnect its audience, the sequences help to convey the civil and cultural unrest during such a grave time of uncertainty for the world, during Nixon years that were subject to so much vulnerability in transparancy, in turn generating real world impacts that fueled much of Shirley’s eager campaign. Our titular protagonist is also seamlessly articulated in the make-up chair, where a combination of costume design, wig and make-up help to transform Regina King before our very eyes, for an authentic look that doesn’t come across as a charicature, like other underwhelming biopics. Most impressive among them is the dentures given to King, which not only keep her from ever slurring her vocal deliveries, but also bring to light a undeterred focus to familiarity that includes Shirley’s gap tooth grin, with King bringing to life the infectiously inspiring attitude of her that never withers. On the subject of those performances, King is undoubtedly the single best aspect of the entire film, especially in her commitment to craft that brandishes a consistency in Barbados accent that allows her to lose herself and her familiarities in the depths of the role. Despite the material incapable of lending her ample opportunity to emit the dramatic firepower of her intense range, King obliges the obstacles by instead zeroing in on the stoic resiliency of Shirley in the face of racial prejudice, unloading line after line of inspiring emphasis with sternly soft-spoken demeanor that always carried with it a proverbial stick of reality towards uncovering racial injustices. King is joined by Lance Reddick, who in his penultimate film before his untimely death, also bares an uncanny resemblance to Shirley’s campain manager, Wesley McDonald Holder. Reddick’s ample charisma is obviously on full display here, especially during reactions to real-life tensions off-screen that further complicate black representation, but particularly it’s his momentary spats with King that are most endearing, supplanting several hard-to-swallow truths to her campaign’s durress that only further outline the difficulty of her appealing to unfamiliar cultures of audience, all in opening up the expansive emotional registries that have felt limited in too cool roles like those of his in the John Wick series of films.


Not focusing on unnecessary things is a key ingredient to the movie’s success, but not focusing on key relationships in real time feels like a grave mistake, outlining the film’s biggest issue, in that there’s little time to properly expand on this story’s many corresponding angles towards making it unique and inscribing gravitas to hook an audience. Whether the deteriorating love of Shirley and Conrad, the fledging rivalry between Shirley and her sister Muriel (Played by Regina’s real life sister Reina), or even the ups and downs of the campaign itself, which feel dejected by disconnect of a storytelling structure that unceremoniously jumps forward consistently throughout. This makes the drama feel episodic when it even does exist, leaping from each proverbial pad as a means of generating the most intense moments within the campaign, but besides that forces us to re-adapt each time a new conflict unnaturally arises, with little of those downtime moments to breathe in between their abundance. The drama itself feels a bit too safely scrubbed and sanitized to come across as believable, especially with a candidate so involved in the fight against overt racism, and while the script occasionally rocks the boat within the experiences of the audience, it feels like a truthfully more gripping film exists somewhere in the distance, with a director who isn’t afraid to uncover the uncomfortable controversies more thoroughly to craft some tension to the air of otherwise blandly uncompromising atmosphere. It’s an atmosphere that matches the moral design of its titular protagonist, where she’s infallible despite the events of the election proving otherwise, leaving this feeling like a puff piece of sorts that entirely misses the intended direction of a woman who grew and evolved with the times. In addition to the script inequities, the production values of a streaming budget are made apparent with a few key instances in sight and sound that create a noticeable distraction during key sequences they adorn. Most noticeably, the trend of artificial backdrops during Netflix productions continues here, with Washington D.C being artificially rendered during the introduction scene, in ways that are jarring in both texture and lighting between objects that are essentially in the same direction of the sun. That bland and lifeless lighting equally transfers over to interior sequences, where they craft horrendous visual lumination during intimate sequences of interaction that completely corrode the heartfelt sentiment. While also inside of the movie’s many technical gaffes, the editing occasionally borders strange, especially while using the familiar technique of multiple cuts in the same scene to represent the passage of time. The problem in this instance is that the times they’re used doesn’t require this technique to correspond with two minute phone conversations, or single sentence interactions between characters, so instead it just comes across as the actors in frame feeling incapable of remembering their lines. Finally, aside from King, there’s a grave concern with how this stacked cast of reputable actors and actresses are used for the integrity of the picture, with many of them simply standing around to only reaffirm King’s efforts. While this is King’s film first and foremost, as a result of the titular encompassing, I feel not enough effort was utilized to craft awareness about those closest to her, primarily Terrence Howard’s as an emerging love interest, and Michael Cherrie’s Conrad, who each go virtually unnoticed in a slew of emerging subplots that never feel interested in the woman behind the politician, leaving them searching for the kind of ample opportunities that they unfortunately never receive.

“Shirley” is led by a firehouse performance from King, who once more reaffirms her capabilities at disappearing into a role, but is ultimately lackluster as a compelling biopic, with surface level exploration that completely omits the person behind the trailblazer. Though the condensed scope does allow the film to evade typical biopic tropes that rub so many of these films together, it ultimately robs audiences of the opportunity to learn more about her life away from the career, in turn cementing another uninspiring Netflix production that doesn’t draw any closer to cinematic quality.

My Grade: 5/10 or D+

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