In our history, there have been many women whose contributions have lasted for generations and created a lot of opportunity for those that may not have otherwise had them. From Sacagawea to Susan B. Anthony to Helen Keller and Rosa Parks, their passions for what they believed in paved the way to where we are and where we are going. Even though I love documentaries about U.S. history, I have an issue though when films are made about actual historical figures and their historical accuracy (or not). “Shots Fired” director Kasi Lemmons takes her shot at the historical biopic with “Harriet”.
This film stars Cynthia Erivo (Bad Times at the El Royale), Leslie Odom Jr. (Red Tails), Joe Alwyn (The Favourite), Vanessa Bell Calloway (Daylight, Lakeview Terrace) and Janelle Monae (Moonlight, Rio 2) and is the story of Harriet Tubman (Erivo), who was a slave that escaped and then helped others through the Underground Railroad. Becoming both famous and infamous depending on who was talking about her, this tale also shows the relationship issues with her family as well as her political dealings as slavery is abolished in the mid-nineteenth century.
Taking place mostly in Maryland and Pennsylvania, “Harriet” shows the northern Appalachian part of the country well and keeps everything authentic and correct. When it comes to the acting, I really have no complaints as there is a good supporting cast around Erivo, who does a great jobl, even though I think the direction of the character may have been a little off. My shout outs go to Alwyn as Gideon Brodess, who was Harriet’s slave master who also has feelings for her but buries them in cruelty as well as Henry Hunter Hall, who plays a tracker named Walter. His character is a person who usually works for the highest bidder but starts to get a conscience over time, which I felt made the film better.
The downside here for me is the script itself because the story basically takes place from the time she escapes until she did her last expedition to free slaves. There is so much more to her story like helping with women’s suffrage issues or her work as a soldier and spy in the Civil War, much less the events of her childhood that really shaped who would become. I also had issue with direction of the character of Harriet herself, who from what I have learned is not quite the way the story tells her to be. I felt they made her too much of a independent person and did not speak to such things as the fact she tried escaping once and failed, and when she did escape she had a lot of help and did not just do it on her own. Simply put: if you are making a film based on a real person who was important in history, it should be much more fact-based than “Harriet” is. I will still recommend this film but as a Saturday afternoon or matinee showing in the theaters.