L.A. Mayor Karen Bass Talks Presidential Election at ‘Shirley’ Premiere: “This is Life and Death”

Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass had two obvious reasons to attend Tuesday night’s Netflix premiere of John Ridley’s Shirley starring Regina King as trailblazing politico Shirley Chisolm.

“Shirley Chisholm is a woman who impacted me and influenced me when I was a child. She gave me the courage and the stamina and the fortitude,” Bass explained to The Hollywood Reporter on the red carpet outside the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. “But I’m also here because my friend, representative Barbara Lee, is a character in the movie and I want to see young Barbara Lee.”

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Lee, who is played in the film by actress Christina Jackson, was also on the scene. Congresswoman Lee has been representing California’s 12th District (previously the 13th) since 1998, and she is the highest ranking African American woman appointed to Democratic leadership, thanks to her role as co-chair of the Policy and Steering Committee, per her official bio.

Bass, also a veteran of Congress, continued by saying that she hopes the film, which focuses primarily on Chisholm’s bid for president in 1972, serves as an inspiration for “young women who might not have realized that the first African American woman who served in Congress also ran for president.”

She continued: “I served 12 years in Congress, and her picture is there. I was a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, and she was the first woman in the Congressional Black Caucus. So all who served there know her; she’s in our DNA.” Bass never got the chance to meet Chisholm, who passed away at age 80 in 2005.

“She had to deal with gender and race in a major way, and she had to deal with gender issues in the Congressional Black Caucus as the first woman. There were men who were pretty resistant to her, her leadership and her boldness in saying that she wanted to run for president. You can only imagine any woman who was talking about running for president would’ve been controversial, but the first Black woman in Congress talking about that? You can only imagine.”

Ridley’s film, which also stars Lucas Hedges, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Michael Cherrie, W. Earl Brown, Brad James and King’s sister and producing partner Reina King, hits the streaming platform on Friday. The fact that it is arriving during an election year was a topic of conversation on Tuesday night.

“It’s perfect that it comes out now because I’m hoping it will inspire people,” noted Bass, who has notched her own place in the history books as the first woman and second African American to be elected as Los Angeles mayor as well as the first African American woman to lead a state legislative body when she served the state assembly. “It will get people focused. It will get people to understand the significance of a trailblazer like Shirley Chisholm and how important our election is this year. This is life and death.”

Reina King, John Ridley and Regina King attend the Los Angeles Premiere of Netflix's Shirley at The Egyptian Theatre Hollywood on March 19, 2024 in Los Angeles, California.

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