As Hillary Clinton delivered her victory speech last night, marking a milestone for women in politics, and the 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, 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 much beyond talk.
Specifically, 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.
That was a long 6 years ago – before “The Help,” before “How to Get Away With Murder,” certainly before the upcoming “Suicide Squad,” and every other high profile project Davis has appeared in since then. The film may not be dead; although Davis likely isn’t attached to it any longer. And even though I couldn’t find any evidence of why it’s taken this long to get it made, I don’t think I’m going out on a limb when I say that it probably hasn’t been able to attract proper financing. Although maybe today, given Davis’ rise in industry awareness over the last 6 years, it might not be as much of a challenge to get a Chisholm film financed.
The timing is about as perfect as it’s ever been, with Clinton’s historic presumptive win, and as the push for diversity in Hollywood – both in front of and behind the camera – continues to gain momentum.
The subscription sister site to IMDB – IMDBPro, which typically has a lot more information on “in development” projects – says that the film is still very much “in development,” and, worth noting, it lists Anika Noni-Rose as a co-producer. So could Ms Rose be considering starring in the film, should it ever get made? Your guess is as good as mine.
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 interview with 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.
Currently, I’m not aware of any Shirley Chisholm film in development; although it certainly doesn’t mean that there isn’t one. But it would not at all surprise me if a scripted feature film is suddenly greenlit. As I made the case for previously, now is probably as good a time as there has ever been for that to happen.
But while you wait, watch Shola Lynch’s 2005 documentary “Chisholm ’72 Unbought & Unbossed.”
In 2015, Chisholm was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.