Harriet (Cynthia Erivo, Leslie Odom, Jr.) – There have been several movies about abolitionist Harriet Tubman, the escaped slave who became one of the most famous “conductors” of the Underground Railroad. The latest version features the talented Cynthia Erivo, who starred in Broadway’s revival of The Color Purple. Erivo’s performance is transformative and is worthy of the Best Actress nomination she received.
Tubman grew up as Minty, a woman of uncommon conviction and substance. Having witnessed unconscionable violence against her family and friends, Minty ultimately left her husband and her home and escaped from Maryland to freedom in Philadelphia. Adopting the “free” name of Harriet Tubman, she could have lived a safe life in the North. Rather, she returned home 13 times to lead slaves to freedom. Braving death, she considered her quest a calling, becoming an unquestioned leader prior to the Civil War in liberating slaves. During the war, she became a spy for the Union and led the largest battle specifically designed to free slaves.
As a movie, Harriet is a compelling re-telling of the story. It is beautifully filmed and well-acted. It is not, however, a deep psychological profile; it is an homage. This isn’t unusual for movies, of course. Heroes are often presented as flawless. The film would have been better if the dive were deeper. What made her such a brave and relentless woman? Was there anything in her childhood that drove her to become such as leader? Why did she feel that she heard messages from God that kept her safe and helped her predict and evade danger? Curious people want to know.
Nonetheless, Harriet is a very good movie and a fine history lesson. Erivo is extraordinary. The supporting cast is convincing and earnest. Plus, Erivo sings the haunting, uplifting Stand Up, the song played over the closing credits that has been nominated for Best Original Song. Harriet is difficult to find in theaters; it is available on Amazon for rent or purchase.