Harriet: MOVIE REVIEW

Updated: Dec 2, 2019


“I was the conductor of the Underground Railroad for eight years, and I can say what most conductors can’t say — I never ran my train off the track and I never lost a passenger.” 

-Harriet Tubman at a suffrage convention, NY, 1896.


I have always been an admirer of Harriet Tubman. She’s been a representation of strength, character, tenacity and courage. That said, I was not certain that I wanted to see a movie about her journey. Let me explain….I knew her journey involved the pain, horror and brutality of slavery. I knew her journey would more than likely provide a window seat to the visages of racism that would haunt me for days. And yes, because of those things, even though it’s pretty pathetic to say considering her sacrifice for our people, but...I just didn’t want to feel bad.


What I feared and what I experienced upon seeing the movie HARRIET were worlds apart. As the credits rolled, I’m certain I made the woman in the theatre sitting next to me wildly uncomfortable because I openly wept for about five minutes. But these weren’t the angry hurt tears of witnessing a struggle to grotesque for my mind to conceive. These were tears of joy and thanksgiving. I was crying valiant tears of pride and awe-inspiring respect. My tears were purposeful. I cried because her strength renewed something in me, I cried because her journey reminded me of our innate power. I cried because even in the midst of the depravity she was dealing with she overcame through her faith in God. And I cried because God showed up and he showed Himself strong.


If you think you know the story of Harriet Tubman, I’m willing to bet that you do not. Like me you probably considered her to be a representation of strength, character, tenacity and courage. But that’s where I fell short. I was so busy seeing her as a warrior I forgot that she was also a woman. A woman with desires and dreams of her own. A woman who loved passionately and gave all of herself to her family and husband. Actress Cynthia Erivo's portrayal of Harriet Tubman was quite frankly phenomenal. She showed the strength, vulnerability and resolve of Harriet Tubman in what can only be called an Academy Award winning performance.


There were so many things that I did not know about Harriet Tubman’s journey that I was delighted to learn. First and foremost was her prophetic gift from God. Everything this movie revealed about her character and her ingenuity only caused me to revere her more. The supporting cast is equally as excellent. The director Kasi Lemmons has given us a history lesson while providing a reason for African Americans and more specifically African American women to remember that we are the lineage of fortitude and perseverance. But make no mistake, this is not an African American story, this is an American story, and anyone who can see this movie should see this movie.


I would be remiss if I didn’t also address some of the controversy surrounding this movie. It is feckless and unwarranted; like much of the internet, cancel culture is quickly taking the shape of a despondent teenage bully whose only goal in life is to hurt others. But let's unpack it anyway:


-Folks were mad that the actress cast in the leading role of Harriet is not of American descent. A bit of a history lesson, the transatlantic slave trade made stops in other countries besides America. Those boats stopped in Europe, Britain, the Caribbean and of course North America. We are not the only country that has experienced slavery. African Americans are not the only black people who understand oppression. Black folk all over the globe have been dealt with harshly…and by harshly I mean, brutalized, enslaved, raped and murdered. And in truth, the story of Harriet is more spiritual than not. The actress who was chosen, was chosen by divine design, and she is the one who this part was made for.


-Some people were mad because the film introduced a character that never existed in the life of Harriet Tubman. Allow me to offer a lesson in script writing: A feature film can never be completely accurate. To tell a story in two hours you borrow historical truth and incorporate it into a character. It is a FACT that there were free African Americans that were bounty hunters. There were not a large amount but it is historically accurate that there were some. They were offered a lot of money to track those fleeing and seeking freedom. Enough money to set-up their own families at a time when earning wages as an African American was extremely challenging. This can be verified in a simple Google search. In order to show that Harriet had to deal with angry white murderous southerners as well as black bounty hunters, a writer takes license and creates a character to speak to that very TRUTHFUL part of American History. Hence the character Bigger Long.


-Folks have also said that there was a white savior scene in the movie and that assertion is a flat out lie. The scene in question is actually the opposite of a white savior scene. There was no saving that took place nor was there a desire to save Harriet. The character Thomas Garrett did not “save” her. He killed the bounty hunter because he wanted to be the one to torture and kill Harriet himself. His desire was never to help or aide her in anyway. He wanted to own her, he wanted his property intact so that he could continue to enslave her for his whims and his ego. His motivation was for his bloodlust, and his bloodlust alone.


The movie Harriet is a journey worth taking. I will gladly see it again and take others to see it as well. And I am confident I will continue to walk away PROUD, every single time.

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© 2019 Erin Wiley Sands.