Going Beyond the Textbooks

For the first time, there is a major feature film that focuses on the life and journey of American abolitionist and Underground Railroad “conductor” Harriet Tubman.  

The movie, Harriet which was released on Nov. 1, stars British Broadway sensation and Tony award winning actress Cynthia Erivo as Harriet Tubman and features Leslie Odom Jr. and singer turned actress Janelle Monae.  

Harriet, directed by Kasi Lemmons, dives deeper than what people are used to learning about in textbooks. It draws a picture of Harriet Tubman that is more raw and real rather than just shedding light on the success of her journey and presenting a story that leaves out significant details. The film not only deconstructs inaccuracies and misperceptions of the Underground Railroad leader, but it is one of the first films that solely focuses on the true struggles and the success of one of the most oppressed figures in time, the black woman.  

Cynthia Erivo’s performance in the movie was the true embodiment of who and what Harriet Tubman represented. Although the hero’s story is limited to a two-hour on-screen film, Erivo amounts to the determined and uncompromising aspects of the Underground Railroad leader’s life, to the soulful and spiritual connections that guided Tubman to freedom and progression.  

“One thing that was really wonderful about learning about her is that she had a deep connection to her spirituality, so I guess that gave me the space to look at mine, to go in and you know, be a bit braver with my faith and say my prayers and really like, I guess embrace it,” said Erivo in a recent interview about her role and how she prepared for it and its accuracy.  

Harriet emphasizes the struggles of slaves but not in the sense of what most slave-centered movies portray. It doesn’t merely focus on the brutality and the horrifying defeat of what slaves had to endure in order to get to freedom, but it centers the breaking up of families, the determination of going beyond enslavement and creates a storyline which gives special prominence to the selflessness of Harriet Tubman herself.  

If the film has any flaw, it would be that some components of it seem to have been slightly sugarcoated in order to reach younger audiences or maybe just to not be your cliché slavery movie. There were scenes in which one would assume to be a lot more brutal, like the substantial conflicts with slaveholders and bounty hunters, but again, the movie didn’t seem to intentionally want to focus too much of the negative and brutal aspects. 

Overall, for it to be the first major Harriet Tubman biopic, the story was portrayed very well.  



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