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Staff Movie Review: Harriet


Reviewed by Rosemarie Leenerts, Library Assistant

“I go to prepare a place for you” were the last words of abolitionist Harriet Tubman before dying at the age of 91. This sentiment echoes throughout the 2019 biopic Harriet. Tubman, played convincingly by British actress Cynthia Erivo, is portrayed as a relentless, steadfast guide and believer in God’s will—and her own—to lead the enslaved to freedom. Harriet tells an important story and is a necessary reminder of the roots of systemic racism in America.

Toiling in a hot field in mid-1800s Maryland, Tubman, then known as Araminta or “Minty,” decides to run for freedom when her husband is emancipated. Instead of following him and remaining in the South, however, she chooses to head north, away from the shadow of the slave system. Recalling the verbal directions of her father from many years past, Tubman takes off on foot while risking her life with each step. She eventually reaches Philadelphia, 100 miles away.

Once safely in the North, Tubman realizes that her personal freedom is not enough while others are still suffering. With the help of members of the Underground Railroad, a network of secret routes and safe houses that shielded slaves on their way to the North and Canada, she commits herself to returning to the very place she had escaped from in order to save members of her family, friends, and then total strangers. In a series of round trips, Tubman rescues about 70 people in all.

Because of her devotion, Tubman would be remembered as the best-known and most fearless conductor of the Railroad, eventually even acting as a spy for the North during the Civil War.

A story never told before in a big-budget way, Harriet, directed by Kasi Lemmons, may rely on conventional storytelling and shy away from slavery’s grittier elements, but it portrays a strong woman and a vital figure in American history, a story long overdue.

Harriet is rated PG-13 and is available to request and check out from Herrick Library for Black History Month or Women’s History Month in March.

For a list of additional racial awareness and Black heritage films in Herrick’s collection, see the June 19, 2020, blog post here, as well as the following new titles that are available in OverDrive:

  • Back to Natural: A documentary that outlines the ways in which race, identity, and hair are related and offers a compassionate viewpoint on issues that affect African Americans.
  • Venus and Serena: An unfiltered look into the lives of the remarkable, gifted tennis greats Venus Williams and Serena Williams


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