Harriet is a biographical film about slave-turned-abolitionist Harriet Tubman. Directed by Kasi Lemmons, who wrote the screenplay with Gregory Allen Howard. Harriet was released in the US on November 1, 2019 by Focus Features, which is owned by Comcast. Harriet turned out to be better than I expected. While Harriet isn’t 100% accurate, it’s close enough. Everyone should learn about Harriet Tubman.
Harriet opens on the Brodess plantation in Maryland with Araminta “Minty Ross / Harriet Tubman (Cynthia Erivo) laid out near a tree. She appears to be asleep but her husband John Tubman (Zackary Momoh) and her father Ben Ross (Clarke Peters) are standing by as she recovers from what they call “a spell”. In fact, her spells are visions of the future along with her conversations with GOD. As Minty awakens, her husband cuddles her showing much love. Minty is excited about a letter they received quoting freedom for her mother and perhaps Minty as well. This might mean they all could live together.
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Later Minty, her family and a few fellow-slaves gathered to listen to a church sermon, preached by a respected, fellow slave, Reverend Samual Green (Vondie Curtis-Hall) on the front porch steps of Edward Brodess’ (Michael Marunde) house. After the service, Minty and members of her family asked to speak with Edward regarding a promise his father made to free her mother, Rit Ross (Vanessa Bell Calloway) when she turns 45. Minty’s husband John and her father Ben were already free men. Rit is now 57 and Edward refuses to free her despite the letter stating the information needed for her release. Edward tears up the letter and banishes Ben and John from his plantation. Edward turns to his son, Gideon Brodess (Joe Alwyn) and says he would have sold Minty a long time ago if it weren’t for him. Rit cries and calls Edward the Devil. Upset, Minty runs away to the very tree where she had her last vision. She starts to rant and pray, asking GOD to take down Edward who is evil. Gideon appears and says “GOD don’t listen to Niggers”. He touches Minty, she brushes his hand off and he slaps her, then tells her a wicked story about pigs. He tells her she’s like a pig, one day you’ll have to eat it or sell it. A week later, Edward Brodess dies, leaving the plantation to his widow Eliza Brodess (Jennifer Nettles) and his elder son Gideon.
Gideon’s first order of business is to honor his father’s wishes by hanging “Negro slave girl for sale” flyers, made up to sell “Minty” South, away from her family. Minty, who can’t read, has another spell/vision, which reveals her sale is soon to take place. She instantly sees the urgency to run away to the North. She tells her husband, who wants to run with her and reluctantly agrees to meet him at the outer gate as soon as she tells her father goodbye. Minty passes by the field where slaves are working and starts to sing a code song “farewell” that lets them know she is about to run. Minty decides to run alone because she doesn’t want to jeopardize John’s freedom if caught. John waits for Minty until dark, then realizes she’s not coming. He starts walking back home to the plantation where he lives. Gideon sees John and asks, “what are you doing here?” At the same time, a plantation hand catches up to Gideon and tells him Minty has run away. Gideon now pulls a gun on John and demands to know where Minty is. He strikes John when he answers he was just coming to see Minty and has no idea where she’s gone.
Meanwhile, Minty runs to her father’s house to tell him of her plans to run and gathers a few items. Ben wouldn’t look at her in order to say he never set eyes on Minty. As a keepsake, he gives her a small talisman; a beautiful carving of a man’s head. He also demands that she goes to see Rev. Green before leaving and ask him to pray for her journey. Rev. Green gives Minty directions to Wilmington, Del emphasizing, she has to be miles away before dawn. He also tells her, “fear is your enemy, keep faith in the Lord”, then gives her the name of a blacksmith, Thomas Garrett (Tim Guinee) to call on when she arrives. As she leaves, he tells her to follow the North Star and if there are no stars, follow the river. If all else fails, follow GOD.
Focus Features’ website highlights the movie by saying, “Based on the thrilling and inspirational life of an iconic American freedom fighter, HARRIET tells the extraordinary tale of Harriet Tubman’s escape from slavery and transformation into one of America’s greatest heroes. Her courage, ingenuity, and tenacity freed hundreds of slaves and changed the course of history.
To find out the remainder of her story, see the movie, it’s really a very good film based in truth about a very real person. Not everyone has had the privilege of learning Black History. If you haven’t or if you don’t know about Harriet Tubman, you should see Harriet. Kasi Lemmons has done a good job of telling her story. While I don’t think everything in this movie was exactly as things were, I do believe the very essence of Harriet’s life and passions were captured. I am unfamiliar with the young lady who played Harriet but I find her to be multi-talented and a brilliant actress. I heard the role was originally offered to Viola Davis but time went by and it never happened. I also think Janelle Monae deserves acknowledgment for her brilliant performance as Marie Buchanon. This film is very well made. Harriet received generally favorable reviews from critics, who praised Erivo’s performance and found the film sincere but formulaic. I found the film enlightening, well-acted and worthy of an Oscar nod. Check It Out!
[HARRIET is Oscar-nominated for Best Actress and Best Original Song]
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