“Harriet” took on a new self when she became a warrior freeing others after she escaped slavery herself
Kasi Lemmons’s historical drama “Harriet” tells the story of Minty (Cynthia Erivo) who ran away from a plantation in southern Maryland in 1849 and became a warrior to free others, helping establish a low-tech “underground railroad” to tuck away slaves all the way north to Canada. She did so just before Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, after she had endured her first 100 mile journey to Philadelphia and was tasting freedom in a safe house, getting paid for her job as a housekeeper. The Act made it easier for bounty hunters to chase escaped slaves in northern states, meaning they needed to make it to Canada. Minty takes on the new name of Harriet Tubman as her new identity. This film (124 minutes) is quite compelling and may rank with “12 Years a Slave” (2013).
But the film today (more than it would have five years ago) comes across as a morality play on paying up for privilege, and in joining with others at personal risk as well as acting on your own to force change. It’s the ultimate lesson about “skin in the game”. A striking example of the first risk is when she jumps off a bridge into a river when surrounded.
The film has a rather chilling start when a black preacher tells his parishoners that they must obey their masters (and there is Ephesians 6:5 or Colossians 3:22, a little hard to explain away in Sunday School).
Gideon (Joe Alwyn) looks like a wholesome enough young man on his horse, having grown up and overcome typhoid fever as a boy with Minty’s help. But when he gets the plantation, he becomes mean. His dependents realize that their world is going to be taken from them as slaves disappear and their operation goes bankrupt. They have to deal with learning the lesson of having lived a public life they hadn’t earned. This is like “Gone with the Wind” (fifteen years before) without the redemption of a second chance or a new love. There is a time when you have to function in the world into which your a born, and sometimes there is a time when you have to be willing to abandon it and give it up or be punished personally for continuing to partake in illegitimate inheritance.
Some comments and video from my visit to the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park near Cambridge, Maryland, from April 2017.
The film was shot largely in the Virginia Tidewater.
Director, writer: Kasi Lemmons
When and how viewed: Regal Ballston Quarter, 2019/11/8, small auditorium, full
Companies: Focus Features
(Posted: Saturday, November 9, 2019 at 11 AM EST)
Posted on November 9, 2019
CategoriesB-Movies, historical period drama, privilege, race, slavery, war