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Shirley Film Review: Regina King Elevates Biopic 

Regina King as Shirley Chisholm waves and smiles while doing a speech in the 2024 Netflix film Shirley

Netflix’s Shirley is a by the numbers biopic that proves once again that Regina King is one of the most reliable actors working today. 

Shirley begins with title cards sharing that, in 1965, only 11 women were elected into congress, along with 5 Black people. None of these congress members were Black women, until Shirley Chisholm came into the picture. During the course of the film, we follow Chisholm’s trailblazing journey as the first Black congresswoman and her run for the 1972 Democratic presidential nomination. 

The film market has never been more saturated with biopics than in the last five years. While we’ve experienced some truly great films because of this trend, the majority of these movies follow the same type of formula, which makes them feel repetitive. I don’t mind seeing somewhat similar story beats, as long as there is a story worth telling. Shirley is exactly that: a familiar-feeling film that tells the story of one of the most important forgotten figures in American history

The sole reason that Shirley works is Regina King. King has never given a less than great performance in everything that I’ve seen her in, and this film is absolutely no exception. King’s empathic portrayal of Shirley Chisholm makes her a protagonist that immediately captures your heart. Given that there have been no Black women presidential candidates, one can infer that Chisholm doesn’t end up winning the democratic nomination race, but you are still so emotionally invested in her journey that the end result doesn’t matter. 

John Ridley’s script is another reason why Shirley is worth watching. This movie could have easily been another depressing film about the amount of racism and sexism that Chisholm endured her whole life, but Ridley instead focuses on all the barriers that she broke and the good she did for the people in both her personal and professional life. Ridley also directs the more intimate scenes with just as much weight as the campaign scenes, which is a great choice since the message of the film is what Shirley Chisholm stood for, not the state of the democratic nomination race.

Regina King looks back as Shirley Chisholm with Terrence Howard as Arthur Hardwick Jr. right behind her in the 2024 Netflix film Shirley
(L to R) Regina King (Producer) as Shirley Chisholm and Terrence Howard as Arthur Hardwick Jr. in the film Shirley. (Glen Wilson/Netflix © 2024.)

However, one of my biggest issues with Shirley is the quite ineffective cinematography. The entire movie has this hazy look that gives the impression it was shot during the 70s (the time that this film takes place). While this aesthetic works for some of the exterior scenes, especially when Chisholm is giving campaign speeches, it makes the interior scenes look poorly shot. A lot of these moments just look like the camera is slightly out of focus, and while I understand the intention behind this choice, it does not serve the story in the slightest. 

At the end of the day, what matters the most is whether this film properly captured Shirley Chismholm’s spirit, and I believe it succeeded on this front. She is the definitive example of a catalyst of change, and Shirley showcases that beautifully. While this isn’t the most groundbreaking film you’ll see this year, it is absolutely worth the watch to witness Regina King’s always astounding performance as Shirley Chisholm, a name every American should know. 

Shirley will be released globally on Netflix on Friday, March 22, 2024. Read our review of Regina King’s One Night in Miami….

Shirley: Trailer (Netflix)
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