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“Shirley” reviewed

John Ridley’s “Shirley” examines the 1972 presidential campaign of Shirley Chisholm (Regina King), the first Black woman to be elected to Congress, and the first woman to campaign for the Democratic nomination for President. Across the timeline of her run for office, “Shirley” depicts Chisholm’s fierceness against the misogynoir that looked to suppress her efforts and honors the grit of her determination to be a trailblazer and symbol of political hope. However, similar to last year’s “Rustin,” the Achilles heel of Netflix’s formula reveals itself again with “Shirley”: a flavorless, sanitized approach to storytelling.

“Shirley” begins with Chisholm’s entrance into Congress, and a group photo taken on the steps of the Capitol. Her proud shoulders and high chin stand out amidst her white male counterparts, and when snide comments fly her way, she fires back with a prideful respect and unwavering demeanor. Immediately, “Shirley” lets us know that its lead is unshakeable.

It quickly jumps to the beginning of her presidential race, and this subject becomes the primary focus of the film. Shirley strategizes and puts together her crew: her husband, Conrad (Michael Cherrie), her advisors, Wesley McDonald Holder (Lance Reddick) and Arthur Hardwick Jr. (Terrence Howard), and a young-bright eyed law student, Robert Gottlieb (Lucas Hedges), who has his pulse on the youth sentiment. Working together, they know the litany of reasons why Shirley is an outsider in the race. Aside from the social elements of her race and gender, she also has a comparative lack of political experience, serving only one term as a Congresswoman prior to running.

But Shirley knew people, and operated on the principle that politics belongs to the citizens. It’s clear that laws of timidity were not present in her doctrine, even telling Gottlieb at one point, in a moment of advice, that being humble is its own form of arrogance. “Shirley” shows immeasurable admiration for its subject, but the film has the treatment of a history lesson, sprinting through notes on a timeline rather than devoting the minutes of its length to the woman herself.

“Shirley” views itself as a punchy, exciting political dossier, but lacks the attention to detail to make it anything other than a historical summary. It’s terribly one note, holding back on nuance and earned emotion and instead swapping it for ham-fisted bullet points and forced pathos. Our knowledge of Shirley begins and ends with her determination and the timeline of her accomplishments. It hardly offers more inspiration than her Wikipedia page would, and this watered down, speedy treatment of an American heroine is sigh-worthy.