Celebrate Black History Month with ‘Harriet’

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Photo courtesy of Focus Features – Theatrical release poster for 'Harriet.'

For many, Harriet Tubman’s story may be  unfamiliar, but thanks to the film “Harriet,” now available on DVD, you have the chance to get to know her.  In fact her face will become very familiar since it will soon be placed on the $20 bill.

Gifted British actress, singer, songwriter Cynthia Erivo, won a Tony for her 2016 performance in the Broadway revival of “The Color Purple” and appeared on screen in “Widows” and “Bad Times at the El Royale.”  This year she was nominated for an Academy Award for her spirited portrayal as Harriet Tubman in “Harriet.”

Tubman was born on Jan. 1, 1820  in Maryland and lived into her 90s, dying on March 10, 1913 from pneumonia. In between she lived an amazing life as an abolitionist who helped black slaves escape to freedom. 

The film begins in 1849.  Harriet is a slave named Araminta “Minty” Ross living on a plantation in Maryland.  She is deeply religious and has visions where God speaks directly to her.  She is married to a free black man named John Tubman (Zachary Momoh) who is told by a lawyer that the current owner’s great-grandfather had granted Harriet and her mother their freedom in his will. The slave owner furiously denies this and at his death the plantation is passed on to his widow (country singer Jennifer Nettles) and their son Gideon (Joe Alwyn) who has known Minty all of her life. He threatens to sell her if she tries to leave.  If that happens, he tells her “you will never see your family again.”

At this point she decides to flee by herself so her husband and family won’t be in danger if she is caught escaping.

When she gets to Philadelphia she is aided by William Still (Leslie Odom Jr., Tony winner for “Hamilton”) who is head of the Anti-Slavery Society.

Eventually she is able to return to Maryland. She plans to reunite with her husband and bring him and her family to freedom in the North.  Unfortunately things have changed dramatically. Thinking she had died John has remarried and fathered a child.   

While this is unfortunate for Harriet, this enabled her to save a countless number of slaves via the underground railway.

“Harriet” was directed by Kasi Lemmons who co-wrote the screenplay with Gregory Allen Howard. The film is rated PG-13 for thematic content throughout, violent material and language including racial epithets.  Running time: 2 hours, 5 minutes.

“Harriet” is now available on DVD and is well worth seeing.

Also on DVD: “Ford vs Ferrari” starring Matt Damon and Christian Bale and “Joker” with Oscar-winning actor Joaquin Phoenix.