The true story behind ‘Shirley’: Who was Shirley Chisholm?
(Credits: Glen Wilson / Netflix)

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The true story behind ‘Shirley’: Who was Shirley Chisholm?

The latest biographical drama film directed by John Ridley, known for his Oscar-winning work in 12 Years A Slave, has taken Netflix by storm. Shirley was released with a limited theatrical run on March 15th, 2024, followed by its streaming debut on Netflix a week later.

The film divided critics, but the streaming audience is tuning in anyway. This may just be another cookie-cutter biopic, but it is on a figure worth knowing more about; Shirley Chisholm.

As per Netflix’s data from the week between March 18th and 24th, Shirley stands as the seventh most-watched film globally on the platform. Among ten different countries, the Regina King starrer has shot up the top ten list in the USA as well as far-flung Luxembourg.

The biopic also stars Lance Reddick, Terrence Howard, and Lucas Hedges to tell Chisholm’s story. If you have no idea who Shirley Chisholm is, then read on.

Who was Shirley Chisholm?

Shirley Chisholm was a trailblazing figure in American politics, leaving an indelible mark on history as the first Black woman to be elected to the United States Congress. Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1924, Chisholm’s journey was one of resilience, courage, and unwavering determination.

In 1972, she made history once again by launching a groundbreaking presidential campaign, challenging the status quo and paving the way for future generations of women and people of colour in politics. Her boldness in confronting societal norms and advocating for marginalised communities earned her widespread admiration and respect. But it also gained her plenty of criticism.

Some critics within the Democratic Party questioned Chisholm’s decision to run for president in 1972, arguing that her candidacy would be divisive and could potentially harm the party’s chances in the general election. Chisholm’s campaign for the presidency faced logistical challenges and limited financial support, which some viewed as evidence of her inability to mount a viable national campaign.

Chisholm’s outspoken advocacy for progressive policies, such as women’s rights and welfare reform, also drew the ire of more conservative factions within the party. Chisholm’s approach to coalition-building faced scrutiny as well. Some critics felt that she was too independent and unwilling to compromise. Others criticised her for not aligning more closely with established party leaders and power brokers.

If you want to know how successfully Ridley captures Chisholm with all her nuances, watch Shirley on Netflix and catch the trailer here: