Harriett Review – Hypnotizing, Extraordinary Character Driven Performances

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Harriett, from Focus Feature Films, presents the true story of Harriett Tubman, a negro slave, who escaped to become a leader in the underground railroad and in her life led more than 800 slaves to freedom.

Directed by Kasi Lemmons, Harriett stars Cynthia Erivo, Janelle Monae, Leslie Odom Jr., Joe Alwyn, Zackary Momoh, Clarke Peters, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Omar J. Dorsey, Henry Hunter Hall, Tim Guinee, Nick Basta, Joseph Lee Anderson, Antonio J. Bell, CJ McBath, Daphne Maxwell Reid, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Jennifer Nettles, Alexis Louder, and Aria Brooks.

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The film opens with Harriett Tubman, played by Cynthia Erivo, lying on the grass having what are called “spells” by her family, and the local preacher. She explains it is when God talks to her. On this day, the visions are snippets of a birds flying free across the sky, a horse breaking its bridle, her sisters being carried away, and the river.

She is married to John Tubman, played by Zackary Momoh, a free man, and they hired a lawyer to help her gain her freedom, the Master Edward Brodess, played by Mike Marunde, made a deal that they slaves believed, and it was a lie and ripped the letter to pieces. Because she attempted to assert her strength and freedom, her husband was banned from seeing her and she prayed, that God would strike down Master Brodess. The next scene shows him being lowered into the ground.

The master’s son, Gideon, played by Joe Alwyn, heard her prayers and as soon as his father was buried, he and his mamma, Eliza, played by Jennifer Nettles, were going to sell her. She had a vision and knew if she didn’t go then, she would be sold down river “where no one comes back from.”

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Living in Delaware, a slave state, she needed to run 125 miles to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to be free. Escaping by the grace of God, she made it to freedom and finally reached the Anti-Slavery league where she met William Still, played by Leslie Odom Jr., who became the official record keeper of the slaves that were freed by his network.

When she explained to him that she traveled alone to freedom, just her and God, he was surprised. Over the course of the next year, Harriet was domesticated, adjusting under the watchful eye of boarding house owner, Marie, played by Janelle Monae, who provided housing and employment for the females.

A year later, when she told Mr. Still she was going back to gather her family, he explained she was a miracle to attempt to free others was a fool’s mistake. She refused to listen to anyone but the voice and direction of God. Soon she took the name Moses, and soon after she became one of the most active members of the underground railroad.

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Introduced into the secret society by Mr. Still, the group fought quietly to end the insidious evil of slavery. Comprised of white folk and black folk, the group each had specialties, providing housing, hiding places, transportation, marching right into the pits of hell and puling the souls in bondage to freedom.

Over the course of her lifetime, Harriet Tubman helped free 70 alone and when she was awarded the honor of regiment leader of the Northern Army she rescued 750 slaves from nearby farms and secured their freedom. In all she helped, by the grace of God, free 810 slaves. 

Harriet is an extraordinary film. Even as the credits indicate the story in parts is fictionalized, the truth of Harriett Tubman’s accomplishments when the odds are without a doubt stacked against her.

Born into slavery, of dark skin, without the ability to read or write, subject to a life of violence and abuse, and not just enduring suffering but witnessing the suffering of a people whose only crime was the color of their skin should have been enough to break her spirit, to render her mute. Her belief in God, which is spoken without hesitation in the film remains the constant source of her strength.

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Throughout her life she is put into a trance like states by the power of the Holy Spirit and gifted with visions, forewarning of future events and prophetic events, the film doesn’t shy away from presenting her dependence on God or His power to gift the forgotten ones.

The performances are authentic. For some, the outcome may be known. The steps to getting to that place, may not be. Harriett portrays a genuine reenactment of what life had to be like during the slave days and for her, individually.

Driven by strong characters and equally awesome performances, Harriett should be around during awards season.

Captivating, from the moment the film opens until the end of the credits, Harriett opens October 25, 2019. See this film.


Article under copyright protection. ©  Image courtesy of Focus Feature Films.

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