A powerful, historical film concerning Harriet Tubman’s escape from slavery and her attempts to free others.
To understand the effect of racism that still permeates our country, you have to focus on the simple fact that slavery existed in our country for centuries. Supported by the legal system, politicians and Christian ministers, African Americans lived in bondage where family members were frequently sold to owners of other plantations. Harriet is a film about an inspirational woman who you can almost hear screaming from the grave, “Look at me! Don’t forget me!”
Director Kasi Lemmons has given us a film that focuses on Cynthia Erivo’s Oscar worthy role as Harriet, known on her Maryland slave plantation as Minty. Ms. Erivo gives one of the most emotionally stirring performances you will see on film from the beginning where she escapes alone on foot and travels 100 miles to safety in Philadelphia despite being pursued by dogs and the forces of her owner who are traveling on horseback. This occurred within fifteen years of the start of the Civil War, and Minty takes her new name of Harriet Tubman under the guidance of William Still (Leslie Odom Jr.), an African American dedicated to helping slaves reestablish themselves as free people.
But it was Ms. Tubman’s insistence on returning to Maryland alone to try to free her husband and family that raises her to the status of an American heroine. Tragically, though her husband has remarried under the impression that she had died trying to escape, Harriet was able to lead another group of slaves to what can only be described as the promised land. Repeatedly escaping death, she returned on her quest several times despite being urged not to risk her life.
Though the film is not able to spend a great deal of time focusing on the abusive nature of a slave’s existence, Jennifer Nettles and Joe Alwyn provide hateful recreations of the mother and son slave owners who compare their human possessions to raising pigs. In particular, Mr. Alwyn is stunning playing a white southerner lacking any type of moral fiber. His only goal in life was to catch Harriet, now known in the South by the name of Moses, and slowly kill her in public.
One of the most fascinating traits defining Ms. Tubman was her dedication to faith and religion. Like many slaves, they could only find peace and hope in a Sunday church service and she retained her dedication by closing her eyes and trusting in God’s direction. You see her doing that frequently as she sought to help her comrades escape pursuers and you left the theatre feeling that Harriet Tubman was living proof that there is a divine presence willing to lift a helping hand to the downtrodden.
I admired this moment even though I personally rejected church attendance years ago. Was Ms. Tubman able to see something that escapes me?
As referred to above, the importance of this film has meaning to this very day. Though slavery ended in 1865, it was followed by segregation, Jim Crow laws, the Ku Klux Klan and laws banning interracial marriage. Though freed slaves traveled in large groups to relocate to the North, the Government basically told all of them to live on your own and do the best you can. Sadly, many African American kids were raised in dysfunctional families to this very day resulting in them dropping out of school and pursuing a life that for many leads to crime and imprisonment.
As a result, I have a small suggestion to make concerning our country finally making meaningful reparations to a large group of people whose ancestors were brought here in bondage. First of all, we should require all public schools in major metropolitan areas to be in session 12 full months of every year through the last year of high school. Let’s feed and clothes these kids in a proper manner and help them find joy and meaning in life. Secondly, it’s time that we replaced Andrew Jackson, the slave owner on our 20-dollar bill, with Harriet Tubman.
A small step in the right direction, don’t you think?