As Hillary Clinton just might be on the verge of marking a milestone for women in American politics, as the country votes to elect its next president 24 hours from now, following the already historical significance of her achievement as the first female presumptive presidential nominee of a major party, I was immediately reminded of Shirley Chisholm for what should be obvious reasons.
In 1972, Chisholm became the first major-party black candidate for President of the United States, and, of even more significance in this case, the first woman ever to run for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination.
Chisholm’s legacy came into renewed prominence during the 2008 Democratic presidential primaries, when Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton staged their historic “firsts” battle – where the victor would either be the first major party African American nominee, or the first woman nominee – with observers crediting Chisholm’s 1972 campaign as having paved the way for both of them.
With Clinton becoming the first woman presumptive presidential nominee of a major party (and quite possibly the USA’s first woman president), Chisholm’s name and legacy are back front and center, as you’d expect.
In February 2005, writer/producer/director Shola Lynch’s critically acclaimed documentary, “Chisholm ’72: Unbought and Unbossed,” was released in the USA, airing on public television. The excellent film chronicled Chisholm’s 1972 bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. It premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2004, and went on to win a prestigious Peabody Award. it’s a film you must see if you have yet to – especially if you’re not already familiar with Chisholm’s story and accomplishments. It’s accessible on DVD and VOD, so there’s little reason for you not to see it. It’s history; it’s historic; and it may be the only commercially widely-available film (documentary or otherwise) on Chisholm’s life that you’ll see in a long time.
There have been past announcements of fictionalized accounts of Chisholm’s story on film, but none have moved into production (at least, that we’re aware of at this time).
First, in 2010, Viola Davis was to portray the ’72 democratic presidential runner in a feature film that was to be written by Camille Thomasson and produced by Bryan Gambogi and Grant Anderson of Creative Monster Productions.
Two years after the announcement of Davis’ potential Chisholm project, Regina King was rumored to be attached to a Chisholm film. It all seemed to begin with a 2012 profile of the actress in The Daily Beast which said King, “hopes to one day pen and star in a docudrama” based on Chisholm’s life. Not long after that, Kerry Washington mentioned the following in an interview with Kam Williams: “I just heard that Regina King is doing Shirley Chisholm, perfect casting, which is another story that has to be told.” The question we all had was whether Ms. Washington knew something that the rest of us didn’t; Or if she was simply repeating the rumor as it traveled at the time.
Finally, earlier this year (in June), I received a confirmation from producer Barbara Bullard that Anika Noni Rose is attached to produce as well as star in the Shirley Chisholm film that Viola Davis was originally attached to star in, from producer Bryan Gambogi of Creative Monster Productions. Here are a few specifics, verbatim, on the feature film that’s currently in development: “Portrayed by Tony Award-Winning Actress, Anika Noni Rose, CHISHOLM embodies the keen sense of justice and community, embracing her fold like a warrior. Always meticulously dressed, pearls in place, watched adjusted to the second, Congresswoman Chisholm metamorphosed to do America’s business. With a colorful team of cohorts by her side, Congresswoman Chisholm personifies the bold educated Brooklynite with her roots firmly planted in her Caribbean heritage, hurdling humongous odds in a system structured for whites and males only. With an efficient producing team, Creative Monster Production’s Bryan Gambogi (‘Blue Jasmine’/’King of Beasts’ Documentary), Grant Anderson (‘Green Hornet’), Debbie Brubaker (‘Big Eyes’), Barbara Bullard, social innovator, and an award-winning writing team, Armistead Johnson and Montserrat Mendez, CHISHOLM will be eloquently developed changing the paradigm of how we ourselves can be a ‘Catalyst for Change.’”
Few updates on the project since then, but it’s certainly on our list of upcoming films to watch for.
Currently, I’m not aware of any other Shirley Chisholm films (or TV projects) in development – other than the above. Although it certainly doesn’t mean that there aren’t any. In fact, it would not at all surprise me if a scripted feature film is suddenly greenlit, because the timing is about as perfect as it’s ever been for a Chisholm film, with Clinton’s historic presumptive win, and even more-so if she does become the next POTUS; and also as the push for diversity in Hollywood – both in front of and behind the camera – continues to gain momentum. Maybe the Anika Noni Rose film will get some lift should Clinton win… maybe. Maybe not.
In 2015, Chisholm was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Trailer for “Chisholm ’72 Unbought & Unbossed” below: