Harriet is a new 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. A biography about Harriet Tubman had been in the works for years, with several actresses, including Viola Davis, rumored to star. Erivo was cast in February 2017, much of the cast and crew joined the following year.
The film stars Cynthia Erivo as Harriet Tubman, John’s wife and Ben and Rit’s daughter; Leslie Odom Jr. as William Still, a writer and abolitionist who connects Tubman with the Underground Railroad; Joe Alwyn as Gideon Brodess, Harriet’s slave owner; and Janelle Monáe as Marie Buchanon, a proprietor and friend of Tubman.The cast includes Jennifer Nettles as Eliza; Vanessa Bell Calloway as Rit Ross, Harriet’s mother and Ben’s wife; Clarke Peters as Ben Ross, Harriet’s father and Rit’s husband; Henry Hunter Hall as Walter, a slave tracker employed to catch Tubman; Zackary Momoh as John Tubman, Harriet’s husband; Mitchell Hoog as Vince; Deborah Ayorinde as Rachel Ross; Vondie Curtis-Hall as Reverend Samuel Green; Omar Dorsey as Bigger Long; Tory Kittles as Frederick Douglass; Tim Guinee as Thomas Garrett; Joseph Lee Anderson as Robert Ross; Antonio J. Bell as Henry Ross; andWillie Raysor as Abraham..
Harriet, Minte (Harriet Tubman’s slave name, played by Cynthia Erivo), lives on a plantation in Maryland. She wants to get married and start a family with her free husband, John Tubman (Zackary Momoh). Her masters deny her request for her child to be born free. Tension mounts as her husband is exiled from the plantation and she is up on the auction block. Deciding she will die before going back to the plantation, she escapes and travels 105 miles to freedom in Philadelphia. Upon her arrival, Harriet meets abolitionist William Still (Leslie Odom Jr.). He informs her of the Underground Railroad, which is a network of routes and safe houses that help bring runaway slaves to freedom in northern states. Harriet finds her calling as a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad and changes her name to Harriet Tubman.
The 125 minute film has received mixed reviews from critics, who praised Erivo’s performance but lamented the formulaic approach to the story. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 63% based on 41 reviews, with an average rating of 5.81/10. The website’s critics’ consensus reads: “Harriet serves as a sincere tribute to a pivotal figure in American history — albeit one undermined by its frustratingly formulaic approach.” Metacritic assigned the film a weighted average score of 63 out of 100, based on 11 critics, indicating “generally favorable reviews”.
The film had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 10, 2019, and will be released theatrically in the United States on November 1, 2019 by Focus Features. It carries at rating of PG-13, for thematic content throughout, violent material and language including racial epithets.