Monday, January 17, 2022

Movie Review: Harriet

During certain U.S holidays, I make an effort to learn more about the people or situations behind those holidays. With Martin Luther King Jr Day approaching I decided to sit down and finally watch Harriet. When it comes to thinking of civil rights and the battle for equality, I always find myself thinking of Harriet Tubman and her epic walk to freedom. I am astounded that a woman, a slave woman, walked from the marshes of Dorchester County, Maryland to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. "I left my husband and family, there's just me and the Lord" she says to William Still up her arrival in Philadelphia. He replies, "I don't know if you know how extraordinary this is, but by some miraculous means you have made it 100 miles to freedom. All by yourself." But it doesn't seem that Harriet felt alone. She had already proclaimed that "I walk with the Lord". 



I am glad that I made the time to watch the movie Harriet and I recommend it to anyone who would like to know more about this one woman who was literally willing to go to great lengths to make sure she gained her freedom.

Harriet the Movie

Harriet was released in 2019 and stars Cynthia Erivo. Cynthia plays Araminta "Minty" Ross, a slave owned by the Brodess farm family in Dorchester County, Maryland. As a slave, she married John Tubman (a free black man). The movie begins as John presents a letter from a lawyer to Mr. Brodess, stating that legally, Minty's mother was to be released from slavery at age 45. And therefore, they are asking for Minty to be freed so that they can raise their family without fear of their children being sold. That conversation, of course, goes badly. From that point, we watch as things become increasingly difficult. Minty and the fictional Brodess son, Gideon, have a complicated relationship - having been raised together but in the role of slave owner and slave. The farm is facing financial difficulty. And Mr. Brodess dies, leaving the decisions of the farm to his wife and son.

After the death of his father, Gideon posts flyers for the sale of Minty. And she runs. Minty is given one name and location after another along the underground railroad and she flees, narrowly missing being caught. At one point, she jumps from a bridge into a river after stating that she was going to "be free or die". Everyone believes she drowned. But miraculously, she continues on. 

At one point, near the Pennsylvania border, Thomas Garrett is one of the angels along the way. "May I help thee Friend?" he asks her. Although brief, I am glad that one of the characters depicted was of Quaker background. Quakers played a very important role in the success of the underground railroad and I am not sure that is well-known information. It is astounding to me in light of the risks (physical, legal) involved when helping slaves escape during the days of the Fugitive Slave Act that such a peaceful group of people would help others. But they did. Peacefully, they helped free many enslaved people.

After Minty arrives in Philadelphia she is helped by William Still and others. She takes the free name of Harriet Tubman. Harriet obtains a paying job and is living free in Philadelphia. Her story could end there but she feels she can't live fully without her husband and family. 

Harriet returns to Dorchester County to get her husband to come with her. During that trip is when she begins helping other slaves to freedom. She becomes so good at it that advertisements are hung announcing "Moses" the slave stealer and everyone is trying to catch Moses. Some believe Moses is a man in black face. Imagine the surprise when they find that it is the drowned Minty who is stealing their slaves.

Of course, the fight for freedom and stealing slaves is not an easy thing. There is some conflict, physical or emotional, at every turn.

My Personal Thoughts of Harriet the Movie

I think part of the reason I hadn't watched this movie sooner is because I didn't want to ruin some of the images I already had of Harriet Tubman in my head. Sometimes I prefer my imaginings and Hollywood's version isn't the version I want to see. As a young girl, I was amazed that a woman would walk to freedom. As an adult, visiting Dorchester County, I was amazed that a woman would walk through that marshy area to freedom. I was once visiting the area around Fishing Bay, Maryland during a tropical storm. The rain was falling in sheets off and on the entire day. The wet marshes were even more full of water and water was across the roads. And that was the first time I realized that I was in the area where Harriet Tubman (I didn't yet know that wasn't her birth name) was born and raised. We passed a historical marker along a country road. Despite the rain we stopped to read the sign. Off across the field, barely visible through the rain, was a small cabin. The marker listed it as a Harriet Tubman home.

photo by Dawn Rae

Currently, if you travel to that general area, you'll find the Harriet Tubman Museum that was completed in 2019.  It is a small museum but worth the visit in my opinion. And you can drive the Harriet Tubman Byway - a driving tour with many sites related to Harriet Tubman's life.

This movie was not filmed in Dorchester County. I was a bit disappointed about that fact. Hiking 100 miles is a huge feat but walking 100 miles through marshy areas is terrifying to me (I have a great fear of snakes). Also, the movie was an abbreviated depiction of her life. I'm sure it was not easy to pack a lifetime worth of information into a two hour and five minute movie. I would have loved this movie to have been mini-series length. Despite those two things, I enjoyed this moving very much. I loved watching Ms. Erivo as Minty. I think she was perfect for the role. The singing was touching and perfect for the setting. I enjoyed Erivo's voice immensely. 

It will never be determined whether Harriet's head injury (being hit in the head by an overseer) led to her "spells", whether she had a neurological disorder such as seizures, or whether she fell out when God gave her visions, but it is clear that she had an unshakable faith. And she saved lives through that faith. Harriet Tubman was pretty amazing and I recommend this movie to anyone who wants to get a more clear idea of who she was and what she was able to do with her life.

Finally, I rented Harriet for $1.99 on Amazon Prime and watched the movie twice (once for each day of the rental). I don't think you can beat that price for good entertainment. I highly recommend an Amazon Prime membership for good deals on movies and books among other benefits.

find your copy on Amazon





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6 comments:

  1. Thanks for your wonderful review, Dawn Rae. I had heard of Harriet Tubman, but did not really know the backstory. Sounds like this would be a fine movie to watch and today (Martin Luther King Day) would be a perfect time.

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  2. I never knew that there was a movie made about Harriet Tubman. She was also a spy and scout for the Union Army during the Civil War. I love anything to do with history but never dug deep enough to know all these facts about Harriet. I also never knew that the Quakers played a role in the Underground Railroad. Thanks Dawn for the movie recommendation.

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  3. What an intriguing review! The "ugly" history of the United States has never been something I admire, but I definitely admire the beauty that bursts through the ugly to make way for magnificence. As a female, it is hard to imagine the determination, in spite of fears, required to flight & fight alone for freedom. Truly an admirable individual. I didn't realize she had such a strong faith in God. That makes her all the more remarkable in my opinion. Thank you for this review and recommendation.

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  4. This sounds like a movie that should be watched by everyone. We all tend to gloss over the "bad" parts of our history that we don't like, but, that's where are hardest lessons are learned. I will definitely be watching this movie in the near future. Harriet's story sounds really interesting.

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  5. Thank you for your fascinating review of this movie. I had heard about Harriet Tubman but I learned a lot more about her from you. I had not heard of this movie before but it sounds very interesting. Thank you for the recommendation.

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  6. Dawn thank you for this review. I'm quite selective lately about what I watch - and I've been debating this movie - after your review, yes, I'm going to watch this one

    ReplyDelete

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