The extraordinary tale of Harriet Tubman’s escape from slavery and transformation into one of America’s greatest heroes, whose courage, ingenuity, and tenacity freed hundreds of slaves and changed the course of history.
The film brings us back in time to Minty’s (aka Harriet’s) situation prior to escaping to the North. Her owners treatment is despicable, but filmmaker Kasi Lemmons doesn’t protect us from seeing it…we immediately sink into the same inescapable emotional abyss. While many of us know the name Harriet Tubman, a woman who was integral to the Underground Railroad which assisted slaves to escape into freedom, but “Harriet” takes us further into her story, discovering the tenacity, strength, and determination of this woman and how she came to possess these remarkable attributes. Additionally, the film imparts historical knowledge that admittedly I was unaware. Embodying Harriet Tubman is the talented Cynthia Erivo who gives a richly textured performance. It’s impossible to leave the theater and not think that you now know who Harriet Tubman was as a person, not just a hero.
If good intentions were the only thing that went towards the making of a good movie, then Harriet would be a four star production. However, there are more than a few problems with this portrayal of the the hero of the Underground Railroad. To be sure, some liberties are taken with the facts, but this is part-and-parcel where fact-based movies are concerned. Yet, the filmmakers seem to be bending over backwards in their efforts to recast Tubman as a more modern figure in order to appeal to today’s audiences. There’s no question that, in the title role, Cynthia Erivo delivers an impassioned performance – I just wish it were in service of a better script that fails to give the woman and her actions proper time to develop.