Vice President-elect Kamala Harris has made American history as the first woman to hold that title, and one of the inspirations she listed while speaking at the 2020 Democratic National Convention included a name that’s recently come to the forefront in industry news: Shirley Chisholm was our nation’s first Black congresswoman, and an upcoming feature from Cherien Dabis will follow her historic presidential run. It’s been announced that Danai Gurira will play the titular role in The Fighting Shirley Chisholm, portraying the politician who broke a number of boundaries.
In 1972, Chisholm became the first woman to seek the Democratic Party’s nomination and the first person of color to run for the presidential nomination of a major American political party. “I am not the candidate of Black America, although I am Black and proud,” Chisholm stated when announcing her run. “I am not the candidate of the women’s movement of this country, although I am a woman, and I’m equally proud of that. I am not the candidate or any political bosses or fat cats or special interests … I am the candidate of the people of America.”
The onscreen depiction of such an impactful figure in our nation’s history requires careful casting. Uzo Aduba recently played Chisholm in the FX miniseries Mrs. America and won an Emmy for her performance as the political icon. And Viola Davis was originally set to star as Chisholm, as well as executive produce for Amazon The Fighting Shirley Chisholm. But the project was retooled, with Dabis taking over as director from the previously-slated Maggie Betts and Gurira picking up the mantle of portraying the boundary-breaking politician.
Known for her work as Okoye in Black Panther and the Avengers series, Gurira is familiar with playing women who challenge the status quo. The New York Times critic Manohla Dargis points to the “blissful emancipatory moment” during a particular Black Panther scene where the female warrior throws her wig at a man before eliminating him as a threat, which also “serves as a rejoinder to the practice of ‘wigging.’” Gurira is also known for her role as Michonne in The Walking Dead, another powerful female character. “I’m a feminist, and I advocate women’s leadership, and I loved that shaking up society results in unabashed female leadership, at least in our show,” Gurira stated during an interview about the series.
The statement further supports the casting choice of Gurira as the trailblazing politician, and the actor is an activist in her own life, as well. She founded the non-profit organization Love Our Girls, which works to raise awareness about the challenges that women face throughout the world and promote change. Gurira states on the nonprofit’s site that she holds a “hope to see them [women and girls] function on the same playing field as men.” We think that her upcoming role as Chisholm is a strong step in the right direction, and Vice President-elect Harris might just agree.