Harriet Tubman has been considered to be on US currency so she is arguably the most important figure from her time period. Shocking to believe that there has never been a movie about her in the past, considering all of the slave narrative movies that already exist, which in my opinion, is the main importance behind this film’s release…it’s necessary. Enter a brand-new film from Focus Pictures, “Harriet.”
The film picks up in the adulthood of Tubman’s life, including life as a married slave (her husband is a freed blacksmith played by Zachary Momoh), her reason for her escape to freedom, and the lack of enthusiasm of said freedom from her family and friends on the plantation. It’s a struggle that I’m sure we’ve seen many times before in movies past, but it nonetheless felt important to see.
The titular role is played by Cynthia Erivo, who delivers a dynamic performance as she effortlessly wears a face of worry and fear, and yet still portrays the strength and candor that we all imagine Tubman carried with her through the Underground Railroad. Erivo manages to command the screen whenever she appears; at times, you actually feel that Tubman is being channeled directly.
We also learn about the importance of spirituals being sung in the fields as Erivo and the cast deliver soul-stirring renditions throughout the film. For those who are unaware, spirituals were used as code to alert and notify of any news throughout that plantation, particularly when one has escaped to freedom or when one has died. I can’t recall ever seeing this particular nuance of slave culture in any other narrative, so I found this to be a unique twist on a story that could easily appear stagnantly similar. Speaking of the cast, Erivo is wonderfully complimented by supporting roles by music phenoms, Janelle Monaé and Leslie Odom, Jr. who both deliver caliber acting performances, which is always wonderful to see from musicians.
The film took on a bit of a superhero’s twist, once Harriet Tubman was dubbed the nickname “Moses,” and was perceived as this mystery figure (even believed to be a man) who is ever elusive and makes the angered slave masters seem as inept henchmen who are continuously foiled by this shadowy savior. More so, they tap into an “otherworldly” realm in explaining Tubman’s ability to navigate slaves to freedom, by showing an eerie power that overcomes her when being directed. The reason behind this power is perfectly explained and relates to the overall character, but still, she could be the first superhero, at least as how this movie portrays her, which completely satisfies me!
There is a refreshing rise within our culture that teems of buzz phrases as “Black Excellence” and “Black Girl Magic,” that Black people have embraced and have popularly demanded to see these mantras reflected in film and media. Nonetheless, in their true fashion, Hollywood still continues to crank out programming that encourages Black folks to never forget their roots, and focuses on a period in American History that constantly reminds us of the stain and horror of slavery. With that, Focus Pictures has released a film that is necessary and long overdue about the life of Harriet Tubman.