Shirley (2024): 10 Similar Movies You Must Watch

‘Shirley’ is a poignant biographical drama helmed by John Ridley, capturing the historic 1972 presidential campaign of Shirley Chisholm, the pioneering first Black woman elected to the United States Congress. Regina King delivers a powerful performance in the titular role, portraying Chisholm’s groundbreaking journey with depth and authenticity. The film also features standout performances by Lance Reddick and Lucas Hedges in key supporting roles of Wesley McDonald ‘Mac’ Holder and Robert Gottlieb, offering a compelling exploration of Chisholm’s trailblazing legacy and the challenges she faced as a political leader. If you crave more narratives brimming with real-life accounts of political visionaries, here are 10 movies like Shirley that deserve your attention.

10. Cry Freedom (1987)

Directed by Richard Attenborough, ‘Cry Freedom’ is a gripping biographical drama that chronicles the true story of South African anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko (Denzel Washington), and his friendship with journalist Donald Woods (Kevin Kline). The film shows their courageous fight against racial injustice and oppression in apartheid-era South Africa, highlighting Biko’s unwavering commitment to equality and freedom. Similarly to ‘Shirley’, ‘Cry Freedom’ explores the theme of resistance against systemic oppression and the pursuit of social justice, offering a poignant portrayal of individuals who dared to challenge the status quo for a better world.

9. Judas and the Black Messiah (2021)

Judas and the Black Messiah,’ directed by Shaka King, is a compelling biographical drama that plunges into the turbulent history of the Black Panther Party and the betrayal of its chairman, Fred Hampton, by informant William O’Neal. Starring Daniel Kaluuya as Fred Hampton and Lakeith Stanfield as William O’Neal, the film explores the dynamics of power, betrayal, and activism during the tumultuous era of the late 1960s. In a manner akin to ‘Shirley’, ‘Judas and the Black Messiah’ examines themes of resistance and sacrifice, shedding light on the relentless pursuit of justice and equality amidst the backdrop of systemic oppression and political turmoil.

8. Till (2022)

‘Till,’ a biographical drama directed by Chinonye Chukwu, chronicles the poignant true story of Mamie Till-Bradley’s quest for justice following the tragic murder of her 14-year-old son, Emmett, in August 1955. Danielle Deadwyler delivers a powerful performance as Mamie, while Jalyn Hall portrays Emmett in this emotionally charged film. It centers on Mamie’s profound journey from grief to activism as she confronts the brutal reality of racial violence and systemic injustice. Much like ‘Shirley,’ ‘Till’ explores themes of resilience and the transformative power of maternal love, highlighting the universal impact of a mother’s determination to enact change in the face of tragedy and adversity.

7. The Great Debaters (2017)

Directed by Denzel Washington, ‘The Great Debaters‘ is an inspiring biographical drama that brings to life the true story of Melvin B. Tolson, a professor and debate coach at Wiley College in the 1930s. Starring Denzel Washington, Forest Whitaker, and Nate Parker, the film follows Tolson as he mentors a team of African American students to challenge racial barriers and compete against prestigious Ivy League universities in a national debate competition.

In a manner reminiscent of ‘Shirley,’ ‘The Great Debaters’ explores themes of intellectual pursuit, social justice, and the transformative power of education, offering a stirring portrayal of individuals who dared to challenge the status quo and pave the way for a brighter future through the art of debate.

6. One Night in Miami… (2020)

One Night in Miami…‘ directed by Regina King, is a catchy drama that imagines a fictionalized meeting between four iconic figures of the civil rights movement: Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, and Sam Cooke. Starring Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge, and Leslie Odom Jr., the film stretches the questions of race, identity, and activism through their impassioned discussions and personal reflections. Just as ‘Shirley’ dives into the struggles and triumphs of a single individual, ‘One Night in Miami…’ offers a multifaceted exploration of the African American experience, highlighting the collective strength and resilience of those who strive for equality and social change in the face of adversity.

5. Selma (2014)

‘Selma’, directed by Ava DuVernay, shares thematic similarities with ‘Shirley’ through its exploration of the struggle for civil rights and the transformative power of activism. The film chronicles the historic 1965 Selma to Montgomery voting rights marches led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (David Oyelowo), as he rallies supporters to demand equal voting rights for African Americans. With a talented ensemble cast including Carmen Ejogo, Tom Wilkinson, and Oprah Winfrey, ‘Selma’ offers a poignant portrayal of the courage of those who fought against racial injustice, resonating with the themes of resistance and social change depicted in ‘Shirley’.

4. Malcolm X (1992)

Malcolm X‘, directed by Spike Lee, parallels ‘Shirley’ in its exploration of the perplexities of identity and the winds of social justice. Starring Denzel Washington in a powerful performance (which also fetched him an Oscar) as the iconic civil rights leader, the film traces Malcolm X’s transformation from a street hustler to a prominent figure in the Nation of Islam and his eventual break from the organization. Through Malcolm X’s journey, the film delves into themes of empowerment, self-discovery, and the struggle against systemic oppression. Just as ‘Shirley’ portrays the journey of a woman challenging societal norms, ‘Malcolm X’ offers a compelling narrative of one man’s quest for racial equality and liberation.

3. The Rosa Parks Story (2002)

Directed by Julie Dash, ‘The Rosa Parks Story’ parallels ‘Shirley’ in its portrayal of a courageous woman who defies societal norms and sparks a movement for change. Angela Bassett delivers a strong performance as Rosa Parks, whose refusal to give up her bus seat to a white passenger in 1955 Montgomery, Alabama, ignites the Montgomery Bus Boycott and becomes a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement. The film explores Parks’ personal journey, from her early activism to her enduring legacy as the “Mother of the Civil Rights Movement,” capturing the themes of resilience and social justice depicted in ‘Shirley’.

2. Harriet (2019)

Directed by Kasi Lemmons, ‘Harriet‘ mimics ‘Shirley’ in its depiction of a fearless woman who defies oppression and fights for justice. Cynthia Erivo delivers a captivating performance as Harriet Tubman, the iconic abolitionist who escaped slavery and led hundreds to freedom along the Underground Railroad. The film chronicles Tubman’s extraordinary journey, from her harrowing escape to her courageous efforts as a conductor on the Underground Railroad, showcasing her unwavering determination and durability in the face of adversity. Just as ‘Shirley’ portrays the indomitable spirit of a woman challenging societal norms, ‘Harriet’ offers a powerful narrative of Tubman’s heroic crusade for freedom and equality.

1. Barry (2016)


Directed by Vikram Gandhi, ‘Barry’ offers a captivating glimpse into the formative years of Barack Obama, drawing parallels with the compelling narrative of ‘Shirley’. Devon Terrell delivers a remarkable performance as a young Obama navigating his identity and ideals while attending Columbia University in the early 1980s. The film showcases Obama’s introspective journey, exploring themes of race, identity, and social justice that resonate with fans of ‘Shirley’. Just as ‘Shirley’ portrays the journey of a woman challenging societal norms and becoming a political figure, ‘Barry’ offers a fascinating exploration of Obama’s transformation from a young college student to a future leader, making it a must-watch for those engrossed by stories of resilience and self-discovery.

Read More: Where Was Netflix’s Shirley Filmed?