Harriet (2019)

harriet poster 2019 movie
7.5 Overall Score
Story: 7/10
Acting: 9/10
Visuals: 7/10

Nice performance by Erivo

Dramatizes a story that doesn't need to be dramatized, the story stands on its own

Movie Info

Movie Name: Harriet

Studio:  Perfect World Pictures

Genre(s):  Drama

Release Date(s): September 10, 2019 (Toronto International Film Festival)/November 1, 2019 (US)

MPAA Rating:  PG-13

harriet tubman minty runaway slave cynthia erivo

Ok…confession. beside her runaway to the north and being a leader of the Underground Railroad, I really don’t know much about Harriet Tubman

Minty (Cynthia Erivo) is a slave owned by Edward Brodess (Mike Marunde) while her husband John Tubman (Zackary Momoh) lives as a freedman at a nearby farm. When Minty’s freedom is denied despite a will, Minty finds herself forced to run when Brodess’s son Gideon (Joe Alwyn) plans to sell her. Alone and scared, Minty makes the trip north to Philadelphia where an abolitionist named William Still (Leslie Odom Jr.) introduces Minty to the Underground Railroad and his attempts to help free slaves…choosing the name Harriet Tubman, Minty is reborn and a legend begins.

Directed by Kasi Lemmons, Harriet is a historic biographical film about the life of Harriet Tubman (1822-1913). The film was originally planned for Disney but Disney eventually released the rights. The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and received Academy Award nominations for Best Actress (Erivo) and Best Original Song (“Stand Up”).

When Harriet was released, I realized something. I knew Harriet Tubman was a member of the Underground Railroad and helped freed slaves…that was about all you learned about her when I was in school. While Harriet seems to be a good “intro to Harriet Tubman” piece, the film feels a bit more like a dramatized story when Tubman’s story doesn’t need added drama.

harriet tubman cynthia eviro husband zackary momoth

Oh…Minty…you’re alive. Ummm…Honey, do I have some bad news for you…

The movie gives me a real American History X vibe. It isn’t the subject matter or the any comparisons between the films, but American History X featured a good performance in a so-so film. Cynthia Erivo is a great at Harriet, but the film feels like a rather blasé biopic. The movie amplifies the relationship between Tubman and her former owner Gideon and instead of focusing on Harriet’s work.  It becomes a bit of a cat-and-mouse drama which wasn’t necessary (but a more traditional plot).  Tubman lived a amazing life and did amazingly brave things…it does not need the extra drama.

The movie runs the tricky aspect of being a “slave movie”. The treatment of slaves was often so heinous and bad, but since the films are more for mass audiences, this is probably not something wanted for this film. A truly accurate portrayal of slave-master life probably would be really off-putting for a PG-13 audience and take away from the movie’s basic message, but it also runs the risk of not portraying an accurate account of the time. There are violent and dangerous moments in the film, but it seems like the high stakes would have been more dangerous than portrayed.  It was interesting that they chose to explore one of the darker aspects of the slave trade with Bigger Long (a black slave catcher played by Omar Dorsey in a really menacing way), and the idea of freedmen interacting with people who are still slaves all in the same area.  It is something you do not think about.

harriet tubman god visions cynthia eviro

Harriet, could you ask God to hurry up with that vision. Time’s a ticking!

With decent performances from the cast, the movie looks nice. It isn’t the most amazing period visuals, but it also doesn’t have to be. The costumes and locations feel relatively accurate and there are some tense moments as Harriet escapes along with later missions.

The film for the most part follows a lot of the basics of Harriet’s life including her visions, her marriage, and her rescue of the family, but the order of some of the events are mixed up or not told in full. It is a reminder that this isn’t a biography of Harriet Tubman but a fictionalized movie about Harriet Tubman. It does spark enough interest that I looked more into the real Harriet Tubman and others will too…which is good for a remarkable woman.

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Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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