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November 24, 2019

Harriet (2019) --- “Be Free Or Die.”

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Hello, Movie Buffs!
     Its Maryland 1849 and Araminta “Minty” Ross (Cynthia Erivo) is a born slave legally bound to the land of her owners, despite being married to John Tubman (Zackary Momoh), a local freedman. When her master (Joe Alwyn) refuses to grant her freedom and instead chooses to sell her to the highest bidder, Minty makes a daring escape to Philadelphia, leaving those she loves behind. Guided by her inner strength and the premonitions she believes are messages from God, Minty miraculously makes the 100-mile journey to freedom. There she meets members of the Underground Railroad (Leslie Odom Jr. and Janelle Monáe) who give her the support and resources to go back and rescue her people.
     Directed by Kasi Lemmons (Black Nativity) and co-written alongside Gregory Allen Howard (Remember the Titans), Harriet (2019) is a biographical film that tells the inspirational and extraordinary life of one of America’s most iconic freedom fighters, Harriet Tubman. The story charts her first escape to freedom all the way to briefly touching on the part she played during the Civil War. According to history, after a 2lb metal weight fractured her skull as a young girl, Tubman suffered from fits that she claimed gave her visions from God. Lemmons and Howard could have easily chosen to exclude these beliefs but instead, they choose to incorporate them into the story, which not only made the story more interesting but also allowed for it to remain closer to its source material. The film maintains a brisk pace and a sense of suspense, which stems from the threat of danger that comes in the form of trackers, slave-hunters, and even Harriet’s former master. The violence is restrained in a way that allows for the audience to see the painful scars, both emotionally and physically, that enslavement leaves on a person but full brutality of the slave owners is more or less implied then it is shown. The story spans several years of Tubman’s life and attempting to cover that vastness was always going to be a challenge for a movie; perhaps it would have been better if it were released as a TV miniseries instead. Nonetheless, Harriet, while not an immersive horror like 12 Years a Slave (2013) nor is it a complex depiction of slavery-like The Birth of a Nation (2016) or Free State of Jones (2016), is still a formidable piece of cinematic entertainment that is a suspenseful, emotional, uplifting, and simple story about strength, perseverance, and freedom.
     Unsurprisingly, the story is elevated by its talented cast, who gave incredible performances. Cynthia Erivo (Widows, Bad Times at the El Royale) delivers a powerful performance as the wide-eyed, determined, and resourceful Araminta "Minty" Ross / Harriet Tubman. Leslie Odom Jr. (Hamilton) is slightly confined to a one-note character as William Still, but he provides a friendly face for an otherwise unfriendly world. Janelle Monáe (Hidden Figures) radiates on-screen as Marie Buchanon, a free-born black woman who owns a boarding-house proprietor in Philadelphia. Joe Alwyn has played in a number of interesting characters throughout his career, from Billy Lynn in Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (2016) to the son of high-ranking Nazi officer in Operation Final (2018) to Robert Dudley in Mary Queen of Scots (2018) and now as Gideon Brodess, the son of a farm owner who owns Minty and her family. Here he does an incredible job with the character because although he is bad and you can see it at times in his eyes, there are also a few moments when you are unsure as to where his true loyalties lie. The rest of the cast - Jennifer Nettles, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Clarke Peters, Henry Hunter Hall, Zackary Momoh, Mitchell Hoog,Deborah Ayorinde, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Omar Dorsey, Tory Kittles, Tim Guinee, Joseph Lee Anderson, Brian K. LandisAntonio J. Bell, Willie Raysor, William L Thomas, and many more - all gave excellent performances no matter how small or how big they were.
     Overall, Harriet (2019), while not an immersive horror or a complex depiction of slavery, is still a formidable piece of cinematic entertainment that is a suspenseful, emotional, uplifting, and simple story about strength, perseverance, and freedom. The story had its challenges simply because there is never enough time to adequately tell a person’s life story, but it handled them with strength and care. The cast performances elevated the film and each one left an impression, big or small. I highly recommend that you check out this film, especially if you enjoy biopics or other films of a similar nature.

Final Vote --- 8.9 of 10 stars

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