Advertisement

“Shirley” star Christina Jackson calls playing Rep. Barbara Lee the ‘opportunity of a lifetime’

Christina Jackson talks about meeting the iconic politician and bringing her friendship with fellow trailblazer Shirley Chisholm to life with Regina King.

<p>Glen Wilson/Netflix</p>

Glen Wilson/Netflix

Warning: This article contains spoilers about Shirley.

In telling the story of Shirley Chisholm’s unprecedented presidential campaign, the upcoming biopic Shirley also sheds light on how the civil rights trailblazer met one of her closest friends — future U.S. representative Barbara Lee.

Written and directed by John Ridley, Shirley chronicles the incredible true story of how Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to Congress, became the first Black candidate for a major-party nomination for president when she ran for office in 1972. Regina King stars as the iconic politician who sought to take her fight against social, political, and economic injustice all the way to the Oval Office.

Among those working with her on the campaign was Lee, a Texas-born mother of two (played by Christina Jackson), who strove to understand how the system works so she could create change from the inside. “Barbara [wants] to help and doesn’t know how. Shirley gives her that chance,” Jackson tells Entertainment Weekly. “To see the start of Barbara’s career and to be able to walk in that space and be her for a little while has been an opportunity of a lifetime,”

<p>Glen Wilson/Netflix</p>

Glen Wilson/Netflix

Like many working on Shirley, Jackson was excited to spread awareness about Chisholm and Lee’s inspiring careers. Still, the actress admits she had much to learn about Barbara before taking on the role. “I was incredibly surprised by how much she accomplished throughout her years of public service,” she says. To prepare for the part, her director provided her with everything from documentaries and reading materials to a lookbook of inspirations for her character’s hair and outfits.

While Jackson studied hard, what she couldn’t research, she had to imagine. For instance, Jackson knew Lee was a mother of two by the time she met Chisholm, so she focused on inhabiting the mindset of a single mom who wanted to make a difference at that time in American history. “There’s so much change that was happening very rapidly between the women’s movement, the Black liberation movement, Vietnam; how would you jump in on the opportunity to help a Black woman run for president?” she explains of her process.

Fortunately, Jackson was able to fill in any blanks when she met with Lee in person. “I was super excited that Barbara was around and willing to talk about her time with Shirley,” she shares. Jackson recalls speaking with Lee about what it was like to be part of Chisholm’s campaign and the most challenging obstacles they faced. The pair then met again when Lee visited the set to film a scene (the congresswoman appears at the end of the film to speak about her relationship with Chisholm and the immense impact she had on her life).

<p>Shawn Miller/Courtesy of the Library of Congress</p> Christina Jackson with Rep. Barbara Lee in 2024.

Shawn Miller/Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Christina Jackson with Rep. Barbara Lee in 2024.

“In bringing Barbara along, it was an opportunity to look at the world through fresh eyes and have a pulse on what’s happening in the country, but also somebody to instill what [Shirley] had learned,” Jackson says. “There’s this push and pull between them you see in the film, but you’re also seeing the groundwork being laid for a friendship that extends until Shirley’s passing.”

Just as Lee found support from Chisholm, Jackson was able to lean on her Oscar-winning costar for help refining her role. “She was so gracious in running lines with me and letting me get comfortable,” she says of working with King. “If I had a question about her process or anything, she would be gracious enough to answer me.”

While Chisholm ultimately lost the presidential race, she'd continue serving in Congress for over a decade, representing the state of New York for 14 years. Meanwhile, Lee went on to become the highest-ranking African-American woman appointed to Democratic Leadership. She began her time in office by serving in the California State Assembly in 1990. She later served in the California State Senate before being elected to the House of Representatives in a 1998 special election. During her tenure, she chaired the Congressional Progressive Caucus and the Congressional Black Caucus, was a founding member of the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus, and co-chaired the House Democratic Steering Committee.

Wherever Jackson goes next, she says she will look back on this experience as a highlight of her career. “There are not many other Barbara Lees or Shirley Chisholms when you talk about the work they did that inspired so many Black women to be able to get into politics and hold spaces to advocate and create change in their communities,” she says. “I can definitely say that I’ve left this production a better performer, but also I’m incredibly grateful to even be in this cast and trusted with the story of Barbara and part of the legacy of Shirley.”

Shirley is streaming on Netflix now.

Related content:

Read the original article on Entertainment Weekly.