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Harriet Tubman Movie Review

Updated on September 14, 2022
Rodric29 profile image

Stories of faith and love in the face of adversity make us strong. Read on.

I finally watched the movie about Harriet Tubman. I refused to watch it initially because I thought doing so would destroy my honest estimation of her due to the sensationalism that movies bring with them to sell tickets.

I was right in part! The movie did influence my estimation of her, but not due to sensationalism. Following is my estimation of this movie telling the historic importance of a heroine of the promised land of America. I see why the United States considered putting her image on the $20 bill.



The previews that held me at bay from watching the movie belied the beauty of the message in the movie and the life of the woman who became Harriet Tubman, the great "Black Moses" of American slaves.

Since this movie is a historical representation of what happened with an artistic license for what could have been said and experienced outside of the historical facts, spoilers are not a fear I want you readers to have. It's history. This review is bigger than the movie, though it is inspired by the movie.

Cynthia Erivo

Cynthia Erivo portrayed the American icon, Harriet Tubman, in the film with perfect complexity and realism. Cynthia is a credit to the art of acting as an artist who disappears to exhibit an evolution of her character from a slave girl in Maryland named Minty to an abolitionist named Harriet.

The most exciting part is the educational aspect of the movie. Of the things I know about Harriet, I did not know she had another name before becoming the heroine; but, the film shows how heroes and heroines are not born into existence but groomed by their experiences.

“She was incredibly brave, and fast and strong" offered Director Kasi Lemmons (who wrote the screenplay with Gregory Allen Howard), in reference to Tubman. "She had the makings of a real-life superhero, which she was.” [1]

Cynthia, like a superhero, helped the origin story come alive! I felt like I knew the legend personally by the ending credits.

Cynthia as Harriet

I cried through 80% of the movie.

— Rodric Johnson

Lemmons did take some creative license, but not much with the history of the people. All of the main characters in the movie existed properly. I mention this because, in The Prince of Egypt, the characters existed but not in the correct relationships. Moses knew he was a slave unlike in the movie and he was not a brother to the pharaoh as depicted in that film.

Joe Alwyn

In Harriet, not too much needed changing to make the movie relatable and compelling. The one part that was fictional was the relationship between Gideon Brodess, (fictional himself) and Araminta Ross who became Harriet. Joe was vicious in the movie and did a great job showing the evolution of his character from Minty's childhood friend to her foe.

In the film, Harriet is chased by her slave owner’s vengeful grandson, Gideon ( portrayed by Joe Alwyn), with whom she grew up. ...history has given only slight references to her son, Jonathan. So filmmakers took creative liberty filling in Alwyn's character. [1]

This tweak to the story plays a large part in the villainy of the character as Gideon becomes Harriet's Captain Ahab to her Moby Dick. Instead of giving a false understanding of Harriet's life, this creative license captures the vividity of the horrors of life for runaway slaves.

Joe as Gideon

The Movie Shows Her Faith

Throughout the movie, Harriet showed faith in God. I wondered if Cynthia's portrayal of her having special visions was added for dramatic effect. I hesitated to put stock in it until I searched online and found the following:

In the film, Tubman is portrayed as a deeply religious woman whose psychic visions aided her dangerous journeys on the Underground Railroad.

In real life, “she was intensely faithful. That strong sense of faith was somewhat typical on the Eastern Shore, that Methodist kind of intensity,” [Kate Clifford Larson, consulting historian] says. As for her dreamlike visions, an overseer struck Tubman on the head with a heavy weight as a 13-year-old, and she suffered seizures for the rest of her life. Tubman believed those seizures were prophetic. "She believed that God was speaking to her and guiding her, telling her what to do and protecting her," the historian says. [1]

Not only was there some truth to her visions, but she also had seizures just like me! Knowing information about her health humanized her in my eyes as someone with hurts and pains.

A line in the movie that stood out to me came when Harriet had the evil Gideon on the ground before her after she shot him in the hand. She prophesied that he would die in that spot in war declaring,

God don’t mean people to own people, Gideon! Our time is near. You tried to destroy my family, but you can’t. You tried to destroy my people, but you won’t. God has shown me the future, and my people are free. My people are free!." [2]

I don't know if something like that exchange actually happened in Harriet's life because Gideon and Harriet's exchanges are the result of artistic license, but it sure felt nice to hear and see the look in Cynthia's eyes as she said the lines. She did not look like a warrior, just a woman fed up with being treated like an animal.

She did not look like a warrior, just a woman fed up with being treated like an animal.

The Effect On Me

I cried through 80% of the movie. A friend of mine sent a book to me entitled The Lincoln Hypothesis by Timothy Ballard. I did not know that Harriet and Lincoln were contemporaries. She committed her life to helping free the slaves and Lincoln committed his career to it at the expense of his own life. Ballard claims that Lincoln was one of two men who were sent to help America fulfill its promise of religious freedom.

Because I am reading the book, it triggered a spiritual response within. It was a spiritual feast of recognition that my modern privilege costed lives in the Civil War. I wrote on social media.

I know that God held her hand along the way to get those people to freedom. I believe she was part of a great covenant God made with America that as long as the people of the lands of America (North and South) worshipped the God of the land, they would be free. It took a war for that to happen in the United States, but Canada, which is also a part of the Americas, was a refuge for the faithful.

...Many men and women died so that my ancestors could be free to worship Jesus Christ as equals with others as Lehi taught, "We have obtained a land of promise, a land which is choice above all other lands; a land which the Lord God hath covenanted with me should be a land for the inheritance of my seed. Yea, the Lord hath covenanted this land unto me, and to my children forever, and also all those who should be led out of other countries by the hand of the Lord." [2 Nephi 1:5]

In order to keep His promise, God had to free the slaves. Jacob quoting God reveals that America "is a choice land, saith God unto me, above all other lands, wherefore I will have all men that dwell thereon that they shall worship me, saith God." [2 Nephi 10:19]

I truly believe Harriet Tubman was called of God as part of the great war of freedom to purge the Americas of the wicked and save the righteous. Not only her, but scores of other people who helped to change the Americas from the Cape Horn and Diego Ramirez Islands in South America to Kaffeklubben Island, Greenland. God will have a free people.

The tears came because I knew that slavery did exist and people suffered at the hands of others who thought they had the right to enslave them. As a believer in God and Jesus Christ like Harriet, I shed tears for each man, woman, and child who endured the horrors of human trafficking in the United States.

"I'll Meet You In the Morning"

10 Out of 10 Rating

I recommend viewing this movie for a decent historical experience. The movie is not meant to spark ill toward the descendants of slaveholders or resentment towards White people since White people were just as involved with the Underground Rail Road as was Harriet. This movie is about the human will for freedom, seeking it and helping others to have it.

© 2020 Rodric Anthony Johnson


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