Miss Virginia

Sadly a miss, Virginia
Verdict: 
Verdict: 5/10 - Sadly, Miss Virginia fails to fully take on the important themes of race and opportunity with its unambitious, by-the-numbers plot.
Release Date: 
Monday, October 5, 2020
Written by: 

Uzo Aduba plays single parent-turned-education activist Virginia Walden in this new biopic.

5

In R.J. Daniel Hanna's directorial debut, Uzo Aduba plays real-life single parent-turned-education campaigner Virginia Walden - a woman whose fears for her 15-year-old son James (Niles Fitch) led her to seek to place him in a private school in their native Washington D.C.

Unable to afford the fees, despite a job cleaning the toilets for a politician, she is forced to put him back in the public school where bullies beat up clever kids for "showing them up" and teachers appear content to show the class videos none of them really take in.

Worried he will end up working for local drug dealer Garnett (Leopold Manswell), who offers his own impromptu careers fairs for kids on the streets, Virginia begins a fight for government-funded private school scholarships that takes her from petitioning on the streets all the way to Congress and the Mayor (Erik LaRay Harvey).

On her side is oily but good-hearted Congressman Clifford Williams (Matthew Modine), who picks up her fight - which you can guess from the fact this is a valedictory biopic, runs through trials and tribulations to eventual vindication.

 

It's a powerful performance from Aduba - who is fresh off an Emmy for her performance as Shirley Chisholm in Mrs. America. And one that should be timely at a moment when the Black Lives Matter movement has thrust racial injustice to the forefront of political debate around the world.

But Miss Virginia sadly does not do its subject matter justice, with a shallow sub-Erin Brockovich take on an issue that is more complex than it wants to admit.

An immediate question is what happens to the kids left behind without scholarships? One often put to the Republican lawmakers who have favoured such 'school choice' schemes. Black Lives Matter has also moved the conversation on from worries about lack of opportunities for bright African-American kids to the systemic racism that diminishes the chances and risks the lives of both bright and less academically skilled alike.

Instead, Walden's sceptics and opponents are portrayed as careerist politicians, media personalities and officials on the make.

The anomaly that Washington D.C. is not a state and so less responsive to local concerns is a major early plot point but is glossed over in favour of pitting its hero against uncaring officialdom.

Life in her troubled neighbourhood also at times seems included just to ensure the plot hits certain emotional notes rather than as an exploration of the impact of drugs and deprivation on communities. It's less The Wire, more a Ladybird guide.

This is not to say Walden and her crusade was unworthy of a biopic. As played by Aduba, and no doubt in real life, she is an inspiring woman who through grit, determination and intelligence has evidently improved the lives of children.

But it's a fight and an issue that needs a more ambitious retelling than this fairly sanitised, one-sided biopic.

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