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Masterful movie shares story of pioneer for African American liberation

In spite of the major contributions and groundbreaking role that Harriet Tubman played as a historical figure, director Kasi Lemmons is the first to bring Tubman’s story to the big screen. “Harriet” hit theaters Nov. 1, grossing $12 million opening weekend, boasting a 73% from Rotten Tomatoes and an A+ rating from CinemaScore.

“Harriet” captures the true story of an American icon. The film showcases the effects of slavery while leaving out graphic imagery.

Named an American icon, political activist and abolitionist in the Civil War era, Harriet Tubman earned the adoration behind her name. Though the odds were against her, Tubman’s unrelenting faith and tenacity helped free about 70 slaves from bondage and guided over 300 people out of slavery and into freedom.

The film kicks off on a plantation in Maryland where Harriet and her family worked. Though robbed of their promised freedom, they continued to work until their captors made plans to sell Harriet further south to pay off debt.  Tubman fled to Philadelphia to escape the lifetime of forced labor that was set before her. 

With a new found hope, Harriet began working as part of the Underground Railroad to ensure the freedom of those bound to slavery. Tubman strove to protect and defend victims of injustice, a position she was once in.

Though Americans know her as Harriet Tubman, her birth name was Araminta Ross, nicknamed “Minty” for short. Tubman remodeled her name to match her mother’s first name, “Harriet”, and taking the last name of her then husband, “Tubman”.

Though history records that Arminta Ross changed her name to Harriet Tubman before arriving in Pennsylvania, the film portrays the name change as taking place after her arrival. Harriet was one of the many fugitive slaves to alter their names in order to officially show a broken tie after years of slavery.

As a free fugitive, Harriet’s call to freedom came with a conviction to stop at nothing until the monster of slavery was defeated. She made about 13 trips from Maryland to Pennsylvania, a 90 mile journey, to free her friends and family along with other slave laborers. 

A major contribution to the film is the story behind a scar on Harriet’s forehead. The injury was given to her by a previous slave owner. He had thrown a two pound weight, striking Harriet in the head, over her refusal to assist in the process of tying up another slave laborer.

Taking the last name of her husband, Harriet took on a title America would remember for future generations.

As Harriet and the many she helped escaped from slavery, she was often found to be experiencing dreamlike visions. Through these visions, Tubman believed that God was directing her steps on which way to go next to ensure a safe travel.

In one case, her vision lead her across a river. Many followers believed she was crazy to lead in that direction, but they all crossed safely and were led out of sight of their slave owners. This scene puts Harriet’s “be free or die” philosophy into play.

As she broke out right under the noses of the plantation owners, Tubman was known by her people as “Moses”, reflecting the similarities she had with the famous prophet. 

Cynthia Erivo carries the role of Harriet with an undeniable strength. Earning a Tony award for outstanding actress in her first breakthrough role as Celie in the Broadway production “The Color Purple”, Erivo picks up on the persistent and courageous character of the historical heroine. 

I was especially taken by Erivo’s vocal control in the film’s musical score. She exhibited emotional empathy through her broad vocal range in songs like “Stand Up”, and “Goodbye”. 

I heavily recommend parents with children suited for a PG13 movie to take their families to see Harriet. The film raises awareness of the importance that historical figures play in the country’s history, and prompts viewers to dive deeper into the effects that slavery had. 

In the following tweet, Entertainment Weekly promotes the Harriet film with an excerpt from the movie.

Though some aspects of the movie contain violent imagery, overall it leaves the viewer at ease to focus on the true message of the story. Even though we cannot control the situations we are born into, we can control what we do once we are in them.

Walking into the film, I expected to learn more about Tubman’s story, but was shocked to realize the vital contributions she made outside of preventing slavery. Towards the end of the movie, some facts appeared on screen which provided a new perspective on Harriet’s outside efforts. She worked as a Union spy in the Civil War, as well as an advocate for women’s suffrage.

Though certain aspects of Tubman’s story were embellished to fit current demands of entertainment, the film highlights the most important elements that Harriet did to advance equality. Living until the age of 91, Harriet was brought through a storm of injustices, but dodged the blows of unjust consequences. Harriet’s last words were “I go to prepare a place for you.”

The story of Harriet Tubman carries rich and complex historical value. Attempting to bring it to life in a two hour production serves as a daunting task, but one that the cast and crew of Harriet carried out well.

Be sure to check out this film at Regal Edwards Fresno, Sierra Vista Cinemas or Maya Cinemas. Visit Fandango for more information on showtimes.

For more movie reviews, check out “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” places dark spin on Disney classic story, or “Ford V Ferrari” displays brotherly friendship, becomes instant racing drama classic.

For another article, read Free Solo director, photographer Jimmy Chin speaks at SJV Town Hall.

Jewel Chandler can be reached via email and Twitter.

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