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Film Review: After Big Screen Treatment, 'Harriet' Deserves Currency Distinction

by Todd A. Smith

 

Cynthia Erivo stars as Harriet Tubman in “Harriet” (Photo Credit: Glen Wilson/Focus Features).

 

 

Black Moses…Black Messiah…Black Manumit 

 

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President Donald J. Trump should see the Harriet Tubman biopic that bears her name, “Harriet.”


For some strange reason, President Trump thinks a slave owner, tyrant and overall horrible human being like former President Andrew Jackson deserves a place on the $20 bill instead of a woman who escaped slavery and risked it all going back down South countless times to rescue others from the horrors of American slavery.


However, hopefully the amazingly powerful film “Harriet”, which boasts a tremendously strong performance by actress Cynthia Erivo, changes hearts and minds in the 21st century like Black Moses changed lives for African-Americans in the 19th century.


The sin of American slavery consisted of betrayal, brutal treatment and brutish behavior from people who claimed they came from the superior race.


Slaves had to endure rape.


Slaves had to endure horrendous beatings.


Slaves had their children sold off to other plantations, never to see them again.


And “married” slave couples often got separated by slave auctions.


Further complicating marital matters for an African-American slave was the fact that some African-Americans gained their freedom before the Emancipation Proclamation.


However, often their loved-ones did not gain their freedom putting their family in peril.


Thus is the predicament of Harriet (Erivo, “Bad Times at the El Royale”) and her husband, John Tubman (Zackary Momoh).


John has his freedom.


But his wife does not have her freedom.


Although Harriet’s mom should have received freedom as she was promised at age 45, which would have made Harriet free as well, slave owners often reneged on their word to their slaves.


So instead of living the life of freedom, Harriet’s mother Rit Ross (Vanessa Bell Calloway, “Coming to America”) and the rest of her family have to endure the hardship of forced labor for the foreseeable future.


Undaunted by Rit’s predicament, Harriet and John hire a lawyer who prepares a document stating that Harriet and her siblings should be set free because of the promise made to her mother years ago.


Harriet and John want to begin a family and they want their children to be born free and not have to deal with a life of servitude like most African-Americans during that era.


But when Harriet shows the legal document to her owner Gus Vern (Dan Hartman), he rips apart the legal document while shredding any hopes that Harriet and Rit had of freedom.


Knowing that Harriet will not stop at no, therefore creating havoc for his entire plantation, Gus Vern decides to sell Harriet, despite the fact that she is his son Gideon’s (Joe Alwyn) favorite slave since childhood.


When Harriet runs off to pray to God to strike down Gideon’s father, Harriet’s former White playmate says that God does not listen to niggers.


Gideon also tells Harriet that he should have listened to his father when he told him having a favorite nigger is like having a favorite hog that you one day have to slaughter and eat.


Even though Gideon does not believe God listens to nigger prayers, He must not look at slaves as just niggers because Gideon’s father dies right after Harriet’s plea to God.


However, sometimes people have to be careful about what they ask God for because they just might get it.


After the death of Gideon’s father, his mother Eliza (Jennifer Nettles) is forced to sell Harriet because of her rebellious streak and financial debt that the family incurs after the death of her husband.


Fearing that she will get separated from John permanently, Harriet devises an escape plan for the two of them to run up North so that Harriet will have her freedom and they can start their family as full American citizens.


However, Harriet realizes that if John gets caught helping her escape then he could lose his freedom.


Therefore, Harriet decides to escape north to Philadelphia by herself with only the advice of her father Ben Ross (Clarke Peters) and their pastor, Reverend Green (Vondie Curtis-Hall) and the guidance of the Lord.


However, when she finally completes the trek to freedom, receiving assistance from some new Philadelphia friends in Marie (Janelle Monae) and Williams Still (Leslie Odom Jr.), something still feels off about her newfound emancipation.


She is able to send word back to her hometown of Bucktown, Md. to let her family know that she made it safely to the north.


But when Harriet receives no messages from her family, although they know she survived her escape, she feels the need to go back down south to rescue her husband from bondage, and then her parents and siblings.


First and foremost, “Harriet” is phenomenal.


Erivo will get award consideration and deservedly so.


If you are not familiar with the multitalented Erivo, please do research on this amazing entertainer, who sings and acts with the best of them, after concluding this movie review.


Secondly, “Harriet” is not the same ole docile slave movie that often gets African-American moviegoers upset.


“Harriet” falls in line mostly with “The Birth of a Nation” and “Django Unchained” and not “Roots.”


But like “Django Unchained,” the biopic “Harriet” has its “Django” type character like Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson) with Bigger Long (Omar J. Dorsey).


What makes “Harriet” a superb biopic is the fact that moviegoers will get some of her family history if they are already familiar with her work as a conductor on the Underground Railroad.


Unfortunately, “Harriet” has its White savior-like characters like in films “The Birth of a Nation” and the football biopic, “Blind Side.”


But a true story is a true story regardless of stereotypes, if those characters were indeed based on real people.


And American history does not contain many women more real than Tubman.

 

That is why she deserves to have her story cemented on the big screen and even as a big face $20 bill because the current recipient of that honor does not deserve the historical distinction.



REGAL RATINGS

FOUR CROWNS=EXCELLENT

THREE CROWNS=GOOD

TWO CROWNS=AVERAGE

ONE CROWN=POOR

This article was published on Friday 01 November, 2019.
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