Friday, February 23, 2024

“Harriet” review: a perfect way to kick off Black History Month at MTSU


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Photo Courtesy of Variety

Story by Reana Gibson/Contributing Writer

If you know the story of Harriet Tubman and how she became one of the greatest figures in American history, then odds are you’ll be able to follow along this biographical film. Harriet Tubman, born Araminta “Minty” Ross (played by Cynthia Erivo) is a courageous, headstrong and determined slave woman that risked her life to set her people free. If you’re a fan of the slave-turned-abolitionist or a fan of what she’s done, then you’ll enjoy this film.

“Harriet” stays relatively true to its source material in terms of the titular woman’s faithfulness to God and the key aspects of her abolitionist work. It recounts her life from when she was Minty Ross and the rumors started that she was being sold like her sisters (rather than it being explicitly stated and shown in the movie) all the way up to when she rescues her niece and the last of the Brodess slaves. There is also an epilogue centering around her liberation of 150 slaves and life during and after the Civil War. There are of course a few artistic liberties, as biographical movies tend to have, such as the additions of characters (like Marie Buchanan, played by Janelle Monae and Gideon Brodess, played by Joe Alwyn) who were not real people, though they represented certain aspects of communities. However, various events of Tubman’s life, which are no less important but highly detailed, are left out, not mentioned or altered to fit the story better. Despite that, the film does include glimpses of other famous figures such as Frederick Douglas, who not only worked with Tubman, but deeply admired her, a young Abraham Lincoln and writer William Still (played by Leslie Odom Jr.) who plays an important role in the film.

When it comes to movies about slavery, religion tends to come into play, which is not a surprise. When you need something to believe in, there are many things people turn to. For slaves, it was often God. Her religion, which was a central part of the movie, was a call to her faithfulness in real life. Her “visions,” another central focus, got her out of everything from emotional crisis to sticky situations in the movie and something she credited in recounts to the voice of God. Unlike “Birth of a Nation,” the movie isn’t particularly gritty. There is no in-depth scene of slave violence or torture nor a graphic showing of war, but there are verbal recounts of things slave masters did and the occasional showing of wounds. There are also scenes of physical and verbal abuse but that is as far as it goes.

There are times when “Harriet” comes across as more of an action movie, which adds to the sense of disbelief. These events took place over the course of weeks, months and years but it feels like Tubman super-girled them through in days. She did not, and without prior knowledge of how long Tubman’s life was it could almost be believed. These abrupt jumps are present throughout the movie though the actors do well to make up for it. There are scenes that will have you cheering in the theater, and the soundtrack of various Negro spirituals added a nice touch to the scenes as well. 

Erivo gives Tubman a wide range of feelings and opinions that are not far off from recountings of her. The emotions felt between characters and the feeling of camaraderie where slaves, freed slaves, abolitionists and even people who just want to help add to the pockets of feel-good this movie carries. It is hopeful because it is about the success of a slave-turned-abolitionist which sets it apart from many other slave biographies. Tubman’s success is almost too good to be true, but she earned the nickname “Moses” for a reason.

Overall this movie is a great way to kick off Black History Month at MTSU. For a movie about such an iconic figure, it did well in not straying from the source material while still keeping her grounded as a person. Tubman is something akin to a superhero, almost a myth in black history. Her chances of success were slim to none and she remains one of the most taught figures in American History. It is worth a watch if you want to enjoy a movie that encompasses the ideas of freedom quite well and shows another side of a legend many grew up learning about in school.


To contact Lifestyles Editor Brandon Black, email

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