Harriet Movie Review
Harriet Movie Review Metadata
Harriet is the kind of movie I would have liked to have seen in high school when learning about the Underground Railroad and the fight against slavery.
Minty (Cynthia Erivo) is a married woman living in slavery on a Maryland plantation. Her husband, John is a Free man and tries to persuade his wife’s owners, the Brodesses, to honor their obligations to free Minty and her mother, instead of doing the right thing, the Brodesses make inroads to sell them off, leading Minty to flee for a better life. It begins her journey to becoming the most prolific Conductor on the Underground Railroad, bringing dozens of slaves to the North, using only her faith in God and her own sharp wits. In Philadelphia, she meets William Still (Leslie Odem, Jr) who, with the help of his Angels along the Railroad, move slaves from slavery to freedom along complicated and dangerous routes. Minty learns how to blend into society with the help of Marie Buchanon (Janelle Monáe), a Black woman born free who can sympathize with Minty’s plight but can’t empathize because of her own unique position.
Hunting Minty, who takes the name Harriet Tubman as her Free name, is Gideon Brodess (Joe Alwyn ) and his own network of Black and Native American trackers to bring runaway slaves back to their owners. Gideon hunts Minty and the one folks call Moses, the one responsible for liberating his slaves from his mother’s failing plantation.
Harriet is all very romanticized, and no doubt harsher details were glossed over, but it was so refreshing to see a slave narrative that didn’t dwell on the whippings and other barbaric punishments. We don’t need to see the degrading treatment to understand slavery was wrong since the language of the time is more than adequate. Harriet focuses more on the struggle she has with other slaves and Freed men, too comfortable in their own stations to risk punishment or death. Also highlighted was the impotent rage of Eliza Brodess, widow and Gideon’s mother, who faces losing standing in her own circle as her farm falls into delinquency due to her late husband’s debts and the missing slaves. It’s eye-opening to see a woman with no power so angry at another woman who is systematically removing all of her comforts because Eliza needs to have someone to step on to feel important.
Cynthia Erivo brings a quiet intensity to Harriet that could have her grandstanding on history along. Instead, her strength and will builds Minty into Harriet in a gradual larger than life legend, rather than one defining moment that created a hero. It’s well-paced for 125 minutes and doesn’t feel long or drawn out for a biographical drama. You can forgive Kasi Lemons for glossing over the rough parts. I believe with Harriet, she sends a message that you don’t have to see slaves beaten and murdered to know it was wrong. She portrays Minty’s epileptic seizures, not as a debilitating condition, but her connection to God’s voice, leading her and others to freedom. It doesn’t soften history, as show a stronger, rebellious side with dare I say it, a happy ending.
Harriet is Rated PG-13 for swears, people getting beaten, people getting shot, people jumping off bridges, and terrified people in hiding.