Directed by: Kasi Lemmons
Written by: Gregory Allen Howard and Kasi Lemmons
When I first heard a movie about Harriet Tubman had been greenlit, I was both excited and apprehensive. With the casting of Cynthia Erivo in the titular role, with Janelle Monae, Joe Alwyn and Leslie Odom Jr. supporting, I knew we would be in for powerful performances. This is the first biopic of an enslaved woman and thus I had a lot of high hopes.
The film portrays Harriet as the brave, selfless person our history books tell us she was. However, it delves deeper by sharing her backstory. Born in Maryland in 1820, Araminta “Minty” Ross grew up in slavery. She married a free man named John Tubman and assumed she would earn her freedom. When it became clear she would never be emancipated, she had no choice but to flee.
Upon arriving in Pennsylvania, Araminta chose the new name Harriet and befriends a woman Marie (Monae), a free-born African American woman who runs a boarding house for women who were former slaves. There is a somewhat uncomfortable confrontation scene upon Harriet’s arrival where she calls out Marie on her privilege, for not knowing what it is like being a slave.
At a later point she also confronts the leaders of the Underground Railroad who are wavering in the wake of heavy crackdowns on runaway slaves. She gives a very moving speech decreeing she will “give every last drop of blood in my veins to free them.”
This is a unique look at privilege and its many layers. Harriet Tubman is a person many might not suspect of having privilege, yet she feels a God given call to the service of those still enslaved. This commitment inspires others (seemingly more fortunate) to recommit themselves to the cause. This very timely message to look inward and reflect upon the gifts in our lives and the privileges we have. In a time of police brutality and political unrest, this call to accountability and service of others could not be more relevant.
This film doesn’t shy away from the brutality of slavery as many past films have done. However, it falls into an all too familiar linear slant that many educational or biopics take, which greatly impacted the narrative flow and my viewing enjoyment.
Another aspect that impacted its watchability, was the characterization of Gideon (a character added purely for movie drama). He is the son of Harriet’s former owner and upon her escape embarks on a ceaseless hunt to reclaim her. The humanity and conflict portrayed by Alwyn is stupendous. It creates some compassion and understanding of the complex dynamic and confusing feelings the master/slave relationship must have brought about. The producers tried to romanticize this pursuit, which was an unfortunate and ultimately ineffective choice.
The films slow pace and attempt to capture Harriets lifelong achievements are its undoing as it leaves the end feeling rushed. But overall, this film does an amazing job highlighting a figure whose full historical impact has been eclipsed by others such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcom X.
– Review by Jessie Zumeta
Have you seen HARRIET? Well, what did you think?
11 thoughts on “FlixChatter Review – HARRIET (2019)”
I haven’t seen it yet, but Harriet is an amazing woman and I wonder why it’s taken so long to make a film about her??
I wondered the same thing, Cindy! I’d think there would be at least a documentary on her, sounds like she definitely has a story worth telling that would inspire people of all generations/ethnicity.
Me, too! How have you been?
Hey Cindy! I’ve been good, but busy since I took a casting director gig for a short film. Trying to learn different aspects of filmmaking while still working on getting funding for my feature. How are you? Hope all is well!
My second novel is published. 🙂 All is good on this end. It’s still sunny and warm in AZ.
Awesome, congratulations!! Wish I could say I have had much luck w/ my film, but well, I’m gonna keep on going. All my best to you, Cindy!
It’s the trying that counts. Staying true to your creative side. Best wishes to you, too, Ruth.
I wanted to reach out and see if you had watched Harriet yet and if so, what you thought.
Part of the reason its taken so long to make this film is financing/ timing issues. Originally Viola Davis was signed on but once she got involved with How to Get Away with Murder and Fences she wasn’t able to stay on. It was first introduced during the Obama administration when many considered our country to be a “post racial society”. I think this false narrative made this film seem unnecessary. Lastly, I think it was hard for a lot of potential backers to see what kind of potential audience this film would have. Attaching famous musical and theater talent seems like the producer’s attempt to draw on each artist’s individual built in audiences.
We landed at about the same place. I enjoyed this, but I wasn’t a fan of how they handled her spells. It was a weird narrative choice.
Hi Brittani, now I’m even more curious to see this! I’m glad there is a film about Harriet Tubman, even if I wish it were better received.
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