Regina King on portraying Shirley Chisholm + her grief journey

Glen Wilson/Netflix

Regina King stars in the new Netflix film Shirley, out now, where she plays Shirley Chisholm, the first Black U.S. congresswoman. In her cover story for Harper Bazaar‘s April 2024 Possibility Issue, she explains why it was important for her to bring Shirley’s story to light.

“We … had too many experiences where friends had never heard of Shirley Chisholm,” Regina says. “We all know women who roll up their sleeves and are able to go toe-to-toe with men—Black women. We know they exist, but we don’t get to see them out in the storytelling space. Shirley understood the game of politics, even though people’s lives were not a game to her.”

Regina returned to set to complete filming for Shirley just months after her son, Ian, passed away in January 2022 due to suicide. 

“I know Ian would have felt like if I didn’t finish something because of a choice that he needed to make, then I wasn’t honoring him,” Regina says. “We all landed at the finish line on Ian’s wings. He guided us there.”

Though her son’s no longer present in the physical realm, Regina says she’s now “trying to better understand this new relationship with Ian that the universe has chosen.” But she says “his physical absence is so loud that it’s hard to sometimes tap into that spiritual connection.”

Regina’s also learned a major lesson through her grief journey: “Gratitude and sadness are not mutually exclusive; they’re always working at the same time.”

She credits other mothers in her life for “reminding me of the importance of not isolating—because it’s really easy to isolate, especially when the majority of people in the world have no idea whatsoever of this level of grief.”

If you are in crisis or know someone in crisis, contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline by dialing 988, by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or by visiting 988lifeline.org. You can also contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.

 

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