In 1848, Dorchester County, Maryland, a young woman, born into slavery, dares to escape alone and, after 100 miles on foot to Philadelphia, joins the Underground Railroad, “conducting” 70 slaves to freedom and, later, in the Civil War, with the Union Army, bringing hundreds more to freedom. “Harriet” is the story of how slave Araminta Ross becomes “Harriet Tubman,” heroic “Slave Stealer,” often called “Moses.”
Will you be moved and informed by this inspirational/education biopic? I was. Will you want to see it again? I do. Will you urge family and friends to see “Harriet”? I will.
British actress/singer/Tony-Award winner Cynthia Erivo is excellent in the title role. Harriet is a runaway slave who transforms herself into an impassioned, heroic freedom fighter. Subject to seizures — a result of childhood head injury — Harriet calls them “Godly messages” and “visions.” God calls her, she says, to do His work: “God don’t mean people to own people,” she tells her white master, Gideon Brodess — a racist young man, played by Joe Alwyn. Janelle Monae and Leslie Odom Jr. are abolitionists Harriet meets in Philadelphia. Monae is Marie Buchanon, a young black business woman who inherited her mother’s hotel. Odom is William Stills, black leader in the Underground Railroad who recruits Harriet, warning her of the dangers she faces returning to the South again and again.
Others in the large cast include Zachary Momoh as Harriet’s husband, John Tubman. Vondie Curtis-Hall is a black clergyman who helps Harriet escape. “Fear is your enemy,” he says. “Trust in God and follow the North Star. It’s midnight and you must be miles from here by morning.” Clarke Peters plays freeman Ben Ross, Harriet’s father. Omar J. Dorsey is fearsome black slave tracker, Bigger Long. Henry Hunter Hall is clever young Walter, who helps Harriet evade the slave trackers.
“Harriet,” directed and co-written (with Gregory Allen Howard) by Kasi Lemmons, is historic drama, intended, according to Lemmons, to be a “freedom movie, not a slavery movie.” It succeeds, and NY Times critic A.O. Scott describes Lemmons’ film as “accessible, emotionally direct and artfully simplified.” Harriet speaks the film’s takeaway: “Be free or die. I’ll do what I’ve got to do — free as many slaves as I can.”
Rated PG-13 for mature themes, violence and language, including racial epithets, “Harriet” runs 125 minutes. Listen for Terence Blanchard’s evocative score and stay for “Stand Up” during the end credits, co-written and sung fervently by Cynthia Erivo.
To this show you should go,
For a story you should know;
“Harriet” tells it, straight away;
Don’t delay, see her today.