“Shirley” review: A persevering pioneer | WORLD
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MOVIE | The complicated and courageous life of America’s first black congresswoman


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Rated PG-13
S1 / V5 / L5†

PERSONALITY, rather than politics, often inspires a candidate’s supporters. If the new Netflix film Shirley is a faithful narrative about America’s first black congresswoman, Shirley Chisholm, it’s easy to understand the straightforward former Brooklyn schoolteacher’s appeal five decades ago. Likewise, the biopic’s strength lies in exploring Chisholm’s sometimes complicated personal story: She experiences conflict with her campaign advisers, sister, and husband. She also affirms legal abortion yet states she’s a Christian.

After Chisholm (Regina King) wins election to Congress in 1968, she sets her sights on the Democratic Party’s nomination for president. She finds some support—except in her own hometown, so to speak. One adviser tells her, “You can’t win.” Her estranged younger sister accuses her of acting like she’s “special,” and her husband Conrad (Michael Cherrie) feels increasingly sidelined. “I know a shadow of a man is what you want,” he complains to her.

The film has ugly moments. Racial slurs and actual news clips of bigoted politicians’ speeches portray the hostility Chisholm faced, and numerous blasphemies and expletives probably should have earned this PG-13 movie an R rating. The end credits also mention Chisholm’s divorce and remarriage to an adviser amid a list of her accomplishments.

But there are beautiful moments, too. Chisholm forgives a mentor for his political betrayal, and she visits opponent George Wallace in the hospital after an assassination attempt leaves the segregationist governor paralyzed. She prays for him “in Jesus’ name” and tells him God spared him for a reason. That part of Chisholm’s legacy can inspire politicians and voters today.

†Ratings from kids-in-mind.com, with quantity of sexual (S), violent (V), and foul-language (L) content on a 0-10 scale, with 10 high

Movies about civil rights or race

  • To Kill a Mockingbird / 1962
  • Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? / 1967
  • Mississippi Burning / 1988
  • Remember the Titans / 2000
  • The Help / 2011
  • 42 / 2013
  • Selma / 2014
  • Hidden Figures / 2016

Bob Brown

Bob is a movie reviewer for WORLD. He is a World Journalism Institute graduate and works as a math professor. Bob resides with his wife, Lisa, and five kids in Bel Air, Md.



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