“Harriet” is directed by Kasi Lemmons, written by Gregory Allen Howard (writer of “Remember the Titans”) and stars Cynthia Erivo (“Bad Times at the El Royle” and “Widows”) as the legendary historical figure Harriet Tubman. In the very first feature film ever about legend herself, it follows Tubman on her journey escaping slavery, becoming free up north and going back down south to lead the underground railroad, while trying to stay out of the sight of the white slave owners that are on the hunt for her head.
It’s insane that after over a century of cinema, it took until now for a movie about Harriet Tubman to be made. Thankfully, this movie does it factually, but not in a boring way. After doing some research, almost every aspect of this film has at least some sort of historical record of happening. It even mentions things that I was never taught about in school that I wish I knew before. Obviously, it’s a movie so not everything is factual, but about 90% is, making it the perfect movie to show to Middle School or High School students in a history class.
If a history teacher did make the smart decision to show it, I don’t think the students would be bored. Yes, it does follow a very similar formula as a lot of historical movies and the pacing is a little slow at points, but Lemmons makes the story at least a little bit unique by adding a bit of a thriller element to it. I do wish she would’ve made it a little bit more of a thriller, but there is enough action here to keep everyone entertained.
However, it is Erivo that is truly the one that makes the movie entertaining. I’ve seen every movie she’s been in now (she’s new so she’s only been in three) and I truly believe she is the best up-and-coming actress there is that everyone should keep an eye out for. Her performance is so raw, emotional and empowering, truly embodying Tubman herself. The film may have a few minor flaws (as most movies do), but there are zero flaws in Erivo’s performance.
The cast surrounding her is great as well. Janelle Monáe (“Hidden Figures”) and Leslie Odom Jr. (“Hamilton”) are two very charming actors playing freed slaves up north and, although in small roles, do a great job with what they have. The one weak link I would say is Joe Alwyn, who plays the son of Harriet’s slave owner who is on the hunt for her. He does a pretty bad job portraying a racist Southerner, which I guess in some way is a good thing, but from an acting stand point, he could’ve done much better convincing me.
“Harriet” does for the most part follow a very familiar formula for historical period pieces and can feel slow at points, but in the end it is still an extremely powerful and inspirational film that is historically accurate and showcases an incredible lead actress that embodies the brave woman that risked her life for thousands.