Harriet is a 2019 American biographical film about slave-turned-abolitionist Harriet Tubman. Directed by Kasi Lemmons, who wrote the screenplay with Gregory Allen Howard, it stars Cynthia Erivo as Tubman, with Leslie Odom Jr., Joe Alwyn, and Janelle Monáe in supporting roles
As someone who hasn’t watched a slave movie in almost 13 years initially, I did not care to watch the Harriet movie. I was tired at the thought of reliving the pain of what Africans had to endure during the traumatic era of the Slave trade. When I was younger watching a slave movie used to leave me traumatised, having nightmares and waking up in cold sweats. I realised these movies are not good for my health, they affect me too deeply while watching them I always felt like I was living the experience. I felt the whips, I felt their pain, then I thought of my great-great-grandparents, being brought to the Carribean in chains and working their entire life on the sugar plantations while being abused, degraded, raped and tortured.
I know it sounds dramatic but these were the thoughts that played in my mind after watching a slave movie. After a few years, I realised many other people of African Descent felt the way I did and shared my experience of being deeply traumatized by slave movies. I realised I was not alone in feeling like this.
So how did I end up at the cinemas to watch Harriet? I was invited to a private screening by a very inspirational businesswoman whom I admire. She said, “you have to see the movie, Harriet is just so inspiring”. I knew Harriet Tubman was a warrior, and despite being born a slave, everything I heard about her did not sound like a helpless victim. I went to the event for networking and to meet like-minded females, the screening of the movie was a bit of a bonus, as I would have attended the event regardless.
The networking ended and the movie started, I was soon glued to the screen with my heart racing, totally in awe of how mighty and brave this young woman was. What was even more powerful and what filled my heart with joy is that she looked exactly like me, she looked like my sister, my mother, my nan, my cousins. I saw her strength and I saw why we are still here today despite surviving one of the darkest times in the history of our world.
Harriet was willing to die, to save the people she loved. She was unstoppable, she was fearless, brave, bold, powerful, determined and highly, highly blessed. She listened to her God and did not waver from faith. She was so good at freeing slaves the slave masters at the time thought they were looking for a vigilante white male in blackface. The last thing they ever expected was that it was a black female slave. Lucky for Harriet their ignorance played a role in her moving unnoticed and under the radar for a short while.
In the movie, what fuelled Harriet’s desire to run away was the fact that she was going to be sold off to a slave master in the deep south. Back in the slave era once you were sold off down south you were never to be seen again. The south has the reputation of being the worst place to be as a slave during this time.
Miraculously Harriet runs 100 miles from Maryland to Philadelphia where she is given her freedom. Although she is happy with her new life she cannot bear the thought of her family and loved ones still being kept in bondage back in Alabama. Harriet tells William Still – African-American abolitionist based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and conductor on the Underground Railroad – of her choice to go back and free more slaves, and even after being advised not to do so she follows her heart and under disguise returns to her home town. Doing 100-mile journey once again, she returns to Philadelphia with the first 9 slaves.
When William sees how serious Harriet is he then initiates her into the secret society of the underground railroad.
This was where the movie showed me a different side to the movie. Often slave movies are very divisive, its usually us and them, slave and slave master, helpless good versus powerful evil.
The underground railroad’s secret society consisted of black and white people working together in unity, all with the desire to free slaves. This was the first time I have ever seen a slave movie where it showed some white people during that era, treating black people as humans, with respect, love, and compassion. There were white people during this era who were good decent human beings. Not everyone was an evil slave master hell-bent on death.
Seeing the people who made up the underground railroad network I genuinely felt like there is hope for the human race. this may sound weird but I did not believe there were good white people during this era, this was very ignorant of me to believe. This is where I have always been told one narrative – Your people are slaves, you come from slaves, and today you all ain’t sh!t! Yes, life is unfair and there are many ways we as a human race need to do better, for the sake of the human race and our world we must make a positive change.
Harriet’s story needs to be shared more widely, I believe more white audiences should watch the movie too, hell play it in colleges and schools. The narrative is not one that focuses on the divide, but more about one woman’s unwavering strength and determination. A story that shows how many people had a desire to see all humans be treated with love and respect.
I left the cinema with my heart feeling warm, I left feeling powerful, proud. I have so much love and respect for Harriet and everyone who helped her on her journey to freedom. If that is the blood I have running through my veins and the spirit I have residing in my soul then I can do anything!
Go & Watch Harriet!