This Harriet Tubman biopic will leave you rooting for her.
Cynthia Erivo has earned her recognition because of her memorable roles in “Widows” and “Bad Time at the El Royale,” and because of her Tony Award-winning role in the Broadway adapt of “The Color Purple.” It was such an honor meeting her at a screening of “Harriet,” in which she explodes as Harriet Tubman, the hero who saved countless African-American slaves.
The movie opens with her deciding to escape from her harsh life in the South (Dorchester County, Maryland), and promising to reunite with her freed husband John (Zackary Momoh). She narrowly escapes the clutches of her evil owner Gideon Brodess (Joe Alwyn) by jumping in a raging river and traveling to Philadelphia.
There she meets abolitionist William Still (Leslie Odom, Jr.), and proprietor Marie Buchanon (Janelle Monáe); and changes her name from Araminta Ross to Harriet Tubman.
She decides to go back to free her husband and family (including Clarke Peters and Vanessa Bell Calloway as her parents), despite warnings from her new founder peers. Her courage and determination comes from the words of God, and she refuses to let anyone stand in her way.
Successfully enough, she brings back others, and is appointed the conductor of the Underground Railroad, which promises the freedom of the slave escapees. That’s why down there, she’s nicknamed Moses.
“Harriet” isn’t as full throttling gripping as “12 Years a Slave, mainly because of how easy the story gets, but it does win our attention spans. It’s because of the cast, Kasi Lemmons’ (“Eve’s Bayou”) direction and screenplay, and its ongoing fight for individualism and liberty. At the end of the screening, Odom, Jr. acknowledged how America needs to fight the continuous racism, and it’s true.
Erivo continues to amaze us with her portrayal of Harriet Tubman, because of the words, voice, and persistence provided for her. Even if she doesn’t know how she sounded, she still finds it in herself to sing and act. She’s radiant.
Odom, Jr. also adds some fine supporting work as William Still, because of how nice and worrisome he is. Alwyn channels Michael Fassbender’s “12 Years a Slave” character with his fierce personality. Monáe allows her sassy attitude to be Harriet’s cameo friend. And Peters (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) provides the words and courage as Harriet’s father.
The film even sneaks in some sly wit. For example, the father refuses to look at his daughter, because being a religious man, he can’t lie to the plantation owners about not seeing her. That’s why he has to wear a blindfold.
And you also have some beautiful locations, shot in Virginia. The rivers, the buildings, and the landscapes-all of them shape the film’s time period. If someone complains to me that some sets look fake, then be that as it may, that’s not the real reason behind my enjoyment of “Harriet.”
The movie is able to overpower anyone’s cynicisms, because of how Harriet Tubman was underestimated by people. It’s about courage and liberty, and that’s how it works.