How is it that there hasn’t been a movie about Harriet Tubman before now? I always kinda just assumed there was. When the trailers for this started playing, I’d initially dismissed it as formulaic Oscar bait of a story that we all knew. But I went because I love Cynthia Erivo (who absolutely walked away with Bad Times at the El Royale). It wasn’t until partway thru that I realized, I really didn’t know this story and no I hadn’t seen it before. IMDB trivia confirmed it later. This is the first Harriet Tubman feature. I’d ask why it took so damn long, but this movie was almost worth waiting for.
We generally all know the story of Harriet Tubman. She escaped slavery and then played a key role in the Underground Railroad guiding more slaves to their freedom. But think about it. What do you really know of her story? What did those journeys look like? Who was she as a person? This film seeks to fill in those blanks that you probably didn’t even realize were there.
Yes, it was pretty classic Oscar bait. Fantastic performances (more in a minute) and overall quality on all fronts, but nothing that was too revolutionary. Fifteen years ago, this would be a shoo-in nomination, but for now it doesn’t push the creative boundaries of filmmaking. However, there was one unexpected aspect that really impressed me. This film is incredibly suspenseful. The majority of the film is her escape attempts which are all incredibly tense. I realized later that the story was structured very well, in building around a consistent antagonist. The technique was rather effective, and I was so absorbed that I’m pretty sure I only looked at my watch like twice, which is pretty low.
Cynthia Erivo is fantastic. I knew she would be. Oscar nomination possible. I don’t think it’s strong enough for the win (moreso because the writing didn’t give her that extra moment to shine than anything she could have done better). I also loved that there were excuses to hear her sing because girl can do that like few can. She had a solid cast around her too. Leslie Odom, Jr and goddess Janelle Monae. Mostly a bunch of unknowns otherwise, but all the better to make Erivo stand out.
So I don’t know how much of a factor this is gonna play in the awards conversation. That was my main reason for going to see this, but I’m glad that I made the trek out. It was a worthwhile movie all on its own.
Harriet – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/