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The True Story of Regina King’s Film Shirley, Explained

The True Story of Regina King’s Film Shirley, Explained


  • Dive into the inspiring life of Shirley Chisholm with Netflix’s Shirley, which portrays her impactful journey in American politics.
  • Regina King and John Ridley poured their hearts into this biopic, capturing Chisholm’s resilience and dedication to breaking boundaries.
  • From her formative years to her role as a mentor, Chisholm’s legacy as a trailblazing Black politician continues to shape American politics.

Even though her name is unjustly overlooked, Shirley Chisholm has significantly shaped American politics and made a noteworthy impact on its history. The achievements attached to her name are more than worth mentioning, and Oscar-winning actress Regina King took a leap of faith in order to tell this outstanding woman’s story in the recently released biopic Shirley.

Considering the importance of the subject, King, who not only co-directs but also steps into the role of Shirley Chisholm, carefully selected the contributors to the project and eventually brought John Ridley on board. The writer and director is known for skillfully conveying sensitive and incredibly important stories, and even won an Oscar for his outstanding script for the 2014 masterpiece, 12 Years a Slave. Both King and Ridley poured their heart and soul into this new project, making Shirley an absolute must-watch and an extremely valuable piece regarding Black history.

What Is Netflix’s Shirley About?

Read Our Review

Shirley tells the captivating story of the Black politician, Shirley Chisholm, who managed to leave a significant mark on history while also having to climb mountains of opposition and breaking down boundaries along the way. Her ultimate goal was to challenge the political system in America in 1972 by bidding to become the first Black woman to take on the position of running for President of the United States. Even though her attempt failed, her story is more than inspiring. From tough conversations in the backroom to captivating speeches held in front of the public, Netflix’s Shirley captures the essence of the dedicated politician’s road to success.


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Shirley’s Formative Years

Born in Brooklyn in 1924 and raised as a daughter of immigrants, Shirley Chisholm had to face various obstacles from an early age. With her parents struggling to keep the family financially afloat, Shirley and her sisters had to live with their grandmother in Barbados for a few years. While being separated from her mother and father at such a young age was difficult, it actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Shirley.

During her stay there, the young girl had the opportunity to sip on the sweetness of freedom and independence, which was greatly encouraged by her grandmother and something Chisholm looked back on very positively throughout the rest of her life. The bond she formed with her grandmother immensely shaped Shirley’s own character, since she was taught how to be resilient and show up for herself as well as for others.

Education also played an essential role in Chisholm’s life. Due to attending a strict school in Barbados, at the age of 5, Shirley already knew how to read and write, which laid the foundation for her desire to support early education for Black women. When she returned home, she had to overcome hurdles such as a strict household and continuous financial struggles. However, her dedication to further her education carried her through her formative years and left her with degrees in sociology and also elementary education. She moved on to working in child care centers, which ultimately added to the fire within her and sparked her presence as an advocate for teaching and learning. Her strong opinion on this subject and her desire to bring about a change led her on the way towards politics.

The Beginning of Shirley’s Political Career

Shirley tapped her foot into the waters of politics by volunteering with various groups and expanding her knowledge in the field. Having gained more experience and confidence, she won an election to join the New York State Assembly in 1964, which kick-started her career as a politician. In the beginning stages, Shirley put significant focus on the financial support of unemployed workers and accessible education for students in poverty. When she was diagnosed with cancer, it quickly became clear that nothing, not even health problems, could stop her.

As opposed to others, Shirley didn’t have funds to no end. Hence, when she started campaigning to win a seat in the U.S. Congress, she made it her task to specifically round up women with similar views and build a community based on sincerity and trust. In 1968, Shirley’s efforts eventually paid off when she was elected to the U.S. Congress. With this milestone, her name was first connected to a major turning point in history. It marked the very first time that a Black woman won a seat. Shirley continued to climb the ladder of success, focusing on topics close to her heart, such as education and supporting workers, and eventually became a founding member of two substantial groups, the National Women’s Political Caucus and the Congressional Black Caucus.

At the end of January 1972, Chisholm took the stage in front of a crowd in Brooklyn and stunned her audience with the announcement that she would run for president. Shirley, herself, recognized her plans for the near future as the beginning of a new era inside the American political system. Campaigning to run as a candidate for the Democratic Party, Chisholm was eager to go up against the Republican president, Richard Nixon, at that time.

During her campaign, Shirley was met with a lot of resistance and had to endure a myriad of sexist and racist comments. Despite her efforts and incredibly strong will, for which alone she deserves to be recognized as a valuable figure in American history, George McGovern was instead nominated to stand up against Nixon. However, as probably many Americans will know, McGovern didn’t necessarily stand a chance and eventually lost the presidential election.


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Shirley’s Impact on American Politics

Up until 1983, Shirley continued to work as a valuable member of the U.S. Congress. Even after she left her position, there was no end in sight for the dedicated politician. Only a year later, she founded the National Political Congress of Black Women, which promotes the participation of Black women in politics. To this day, the focus is on clearing Black women’s paths toward an accessible education, providing them with internships, supporting them in cultural development, and encouraging them to take on leadership roles.

Even though Chisholm didn’t achieve her dream of becoming the President of the United States, she has undoubtedly had a significant impact on the country’s politics. For several years, she played an important role as a mentor for Black politicians, guiding them along their way and sharing her experience with them. Following her passion until her very last day, Shirley Chisholm was active in politics up until the year 2005.

Now that the true story behind Netflix’s Shirley is clear, the foundation to watch or even re-watch the film is built. Dive straight into the depths of this inspiring woman’s life and let her take you on a ride through America’s political systems.

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