Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Kasi Lemmons|
|Story by||Gregory Allen Howard|
|Music by||Terence Blanchard|
|Edited by||Wyatt Smith|
|Distributed by||Focus Features|
|Box office||$32.1 million|
Harriet is a 2019 American 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 in supporting roles.
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. Filming then took place in Virginia from October to December 2018.
Harriet had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 10, 2019, and was released theatrically in the United States on November 1, 2019, by Focus Features. It received generally favorable reviews from critics, who praised Erivo's performance and found the film sincere but formulaic.
It is based on the life of abolitionist Harriet Tubman, who escaped slavery and led hundreds of enslaved people to freedom on the Underground Railroad.
Focus Features' website highlights the movie by saying, "Based on the thrilling and inspirational life of an iconic American freedom fighter, Harriet tells the extraordinary tale of Harriet Tubman's escape from slavery and transformation into one of America’s greatest heroes. Her courage, ingenuity, and tenacity freed hundreds of slaves and changed the course of history."
- Cynthia Erivo as Araminta "Minty" Ross / Harriet Tubman, John Tubman's wife and Ben and Rit's daughter
- Leslie Odom Jr. as William Still, a writer and abolitionist in Philadelphia who connects Minty/ Tubman with the North's Underground Railroad
- Joe Alwyn as Gideon Brodess, son of the farm owners and later the runaway's hunter, who had been pursuing Tubman.
- Janelle Monáe as Marie Buchanon, a boarding-house proprietor in Philadelphia and friend to Tubman
- Jennifer Nettles as Eliza Brodess, a widow and co-owner of the slave-owning farm
- 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 black slave-tracker employed by Brodess Farm to catch Tubman
- Zackary Momoh as John Tubman, a local freedman and Harriet's (first) husband
- Mitchell Hoog as Vince
- Deborah Ayorinde as Rachel Ross, Harriet's sister, who has two children.
- Vondie Curtis-Hall as Reverend Samuel Green, a secretly-abolitionist freedman
- Omar Dorsey as Bigger Long
- Tory Kittles as the famed Frederick Douglass
- Tim Guinee as white abolitionist Thomas Garrett
- Joseph Lee Anderson as Robert Ross
- Brian K. Landis as the Marshall
- Antonio J. Bell as Henry Ross
- Willie Raysor as Abraham
- William L Thomas as abolitionist U.S. Senator Seward
In 2015, Viola Davis was set to star in and produce a Harriet Tubman biopic; however, it never came to fruition. Development on a new film began in May 2016. In February 2017, Cynthia Erivo was cast as Tubman, with Seith Mann directing from a screenplay by Gregory Allen Howard.
Further development on the film was announced in September 2018, with Focus Features set as the new distributor, Kasi Lemmons attached as director, and Leslie Odom Jr., Joe Alwyn, Jennifer Nettles, and Clarke Peters, and others, were added to the cast. In October, Janelle Monáe was announced among several new castings for the film, with filming due to begin on October 8, 2018 in Virginia, lasting through December.
Harriet was filmed entirely in Virginia in 2018, spending time in Richmond, Powhatan, Cumberland, Petersburg, Mathews, and several other localities.
In the United States and Canada, Harriet was released alongside Terminator: Dark Fate, Arctic Dogs and Motherless Brooklyn, and was projected to gross $7.5–9 million from 2,059 theaters in its opening weekend. The film made $3.9 million on its first day, including $600,000 from Thursday night previews. It went on to slightly over-perform, debuting to $11.7 million and finishing fourth. The film made $7.2 million in its second weekend, finishing seventh. As of November 10, 2019[update], the film has made $23.5 million at the domestic box office.
On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 73% based on 164 reviews, with an average rating of 6.53/10. 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 66 out of 100, based on 37 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film a rare grade of "A+", while those at PostTrak gave it an average 4.5 out of 5 stars and a 69% "definite recommend".
Reviewing for Observer in November 2019, Rex Reed wrote: "With enough terror to satisfy modern audiences and enough underplayed plot movement to save it from conventional biopic trajectory, Harriet holds interest and invites respect. It is still not the great Civil War epic it could have been, but it’s solid enough to work, and Cynthia Erivo's valiant and committed performance is a wonderful achievement." Richard Roeper gave the film three out of four stars in his review for the Chicago Sun-Times, applauding Erivo's "convincing" and "powerful" acting as well as Lemmons' approach to the story: "The crackling historical fiction frames [Tubman's] harrowing rescue missions in fast-paced, quick-cut style."
Some reviewers were less impressed. Eric Kohn of IndieWire gave the film a "B–", writing that "Harriet doesn’t attempt to reinvent the biopic, relying instead on a poignant turn by rising screen talent Cynthia Erivo as its soulful centerpiece, against the gorgeous backdrop of John Toll's cinematography and Terence Blanchard's euphoric score. As a sentimental tribute, it hardly transcends expectations — but Erivo's performance injects a palpable urgency to the material that makes up for missed time." In Variety, Owen Gleiberman wrote: "Cynthia Erivo plays the escaped slave Harriet Tubman with a mournful fury, but the rest of Kasi Lemmons' biopic is more dutiful than inspired."
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