Harriet (film)

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Theatrical release poster
Directed byKasi Lemmons
Produced by
Screenplay by
  • Gregory Allen Howard
  • Kasi Lemmons
Story byGregory Allen Howard
Music byTerence Blanchard
CinematographyJohn Toll
Edited byWyatt Smith
Distributed byFocus Features
Release date
  • September 10, 2019 (2019-09-10) (TIFF)
  • November 1, 2019 (2019-11-01) (United States)
Running time
125 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$17 million[2]
Box office$43.2 million[3][4]

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, and much of the cast and crew joined the following year. Filming 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 theatrically released 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. For her performance in the film, Erivo received nominations at the Academy Awards, Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild, as well as an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song ("Stand Up”).


In 1840s Maryland, a slave state, Araminta "Minty" Ross is newly married to a freedman, John Tubman, but still a slave herself on the Brodess farm, along with her mother and sister, while two other sisters had been sold to another slave owner in the South. Her father, also a freedman, approaches Mr. Brodess about her freedom, as Brodess's own great-grandfather had agreed to free Minty's mother, Harriet "Rit" Ross, and her family when she turned 45. Even though Rit is now 57, Mr. Brodess insists they will always be slaves, and tears up the letter from a lawyer John had hired. Brodess's adult son Gideon mocks Minty for praying for God to take Mr. Brodess, saying God does not care about the prayers of slaves. Mr. Brodess dies shortly afterward, alarming Gideon, who decides to sell Minty as punishment. Minty, who suffers "spells" since being struck in the head as a girl, has a vision of herself escaping to freedom, and she decides to run.

Minty tells John to stay behind, as he would lose his own freedom if caught escaping with her, but plans to meet up with him later. Gideon pursues her to a bridge over a river, where he promises not to sell her, but she jumps anyway, saying she will live free or die. Minty is presumed drowned but successfully makes it to Philadelphia via the Underground Railroad, assisted by Quakers and other abolitionists. In Philadelphia, she meets Marie Buchanon, the fashionable daughter of a freed slave who was born free and is now a boarding-house proprietor, and William Still, an abolitionist and writer. William encourages her to take a new free name, and she calls herself Harriet after her mother. After a few months in Philadelphia, against the advice of Marie and William, Harriet decides to go back for John. She successfully makes it to John's homestead only to find he has remarried, believing she was dead, and is expecting a baby with his new wife.

Devastated, Harriet decides to free her family, but her sister refuses to leave her two children. Harriet continues to return, guiding dozens of slaves to freedom as a conductor on the Underground Railroad, and a myth begins to grow about the person responsible, who is dubbed Moses. However, when the Fugitive Slave Act passes, the escaped slaves are in jeopardy of being brought back even from free states. Gideon is livid when he discovers that she is "Moses," especially as his fellow slave owners demand he compensate them for Harriet freeing their own slaves. Gideon pursues her to Philadelphia along with the slave hunter Bigger Long, who kills Marie. Harriet flees to Canada.

In Canada, Harriet insists that the Underground Railroad must continue. She continues to help runaway slaves flee all the way to Canada, though her sister dies before she can save her. Over time, the Brodess farm falls into financial ruin. Mrs. Brodess vows to catch Harriet, using her sister's children as bait. But Harriet's team overwhelms Gideon's siblings and retrieves the last remaining Brodess slaves. In a final confrontation, Bigger Long winds up shot to death, but Harriet lets Gideon live, telling him of her vision of Gideon's cause defeated by American Civil War.

An epilogue states she personally freed more than 70 slaves on the Underground Railroad and returned as a Union spy during the Civil War, leading 150 black soldiers, who freed over 750 slaves.


  • 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, Eliza's son, co-owner of a slave-owning farm, and Tubman's former owner, who pursues her.
  • Janelle Monáe as Marie Buchanon, a boarding-house proprietor in Philadelphia and friend to Tubman
  • Jennifer Nettles as Eliza Brodess, a widow, Gideon's mother, 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, a black slave catcher
  • Tory Kittles as abolitionist 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
  • Nick Basta as Fox


In 2015, Viola Davis was set to star in and produce a Harriet Tubman biopic; however, it never came to fruition.[5] Development on a new film began in May 2016.[6] In February 2017, Cynthia Erivo was cast as Tubman, with Seith Mann then set to direct, from a screenplay by Gregory Allen Howard.[7]

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, added to the cast.[8][9] Lemmons received co-writer credit with Allen on the final script, and Allen also had the film's "story by" credit. In October, Janelle Monáe was announced as one of several actors newly added to the film, with filming beginning on October 8, 2018 and lasting through December.[10][11][12]

Harriet was filmed entirely in Virginia, in Richmond, Powhatan, Cumberland, Petersburg, and Mathews. Berkeley Plantation in Charles City County was used for the Brodess plantation.[13]


Harriet had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 10.[14] It was theatrically released in the United States on November 1, 2019.[3]


Box office[edit]

In the United States and Canada, Harriet was released alongside Terminator: Dark Fate, Arctic Dogs and Motherless Brooklyn, and was projected to gross $7–9 million from 2,059 theaters in its opening weekend.[15][16] The film grossed $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.[17][2] The film made $7.4 million in its second weekend, finishing sixth, and $4.6 million on its third, finishing tenth.[18][19] As of December 15, 2019, the film has grossed $41.7 million at the domestic box office.[3]

Critical response[edit]

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 74% based on 198 reviews, with an average rating of 6.57/10. 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."[20] Metacritic assigned the film a weighted average score of 66 out of 100, based on 40 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews."[21] 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."[17]

Reviewing for The New York Observer, 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."[22] 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. He wrote: "The crackling historical fiction frames [Tubman's] harrowing rescue missions in fast-paced, quick-cut style."[23]

Some reviewers were less positive. 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."[24] 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."[25]


List of Accolades
Award / Film Festival Year Recipient Nomination Result
AARP Movies for Grownups Awards 2020 Kasi Lemmons Best Screenwriter Nominated
"Harriet" Best Time Capsule Won
Academy Awards 2020 Cynthia Erivo Best Actress Pending
"Stand Up" (by Joshuah Brian Campbell and Cynthia Erivo) Best Original Song Pending
African-American Film Critics Association 2019 "Harriet" Top 10 Films Won
Black Film Critics Circle Awards 2019[26] Best Picture Nominated
Kasi Lemmons Best Director Won
Black Reel Awards 2020[27] Cynthia Erivo Outstanding Actress Pending
Janelle Monáe Outstanding Supporting Actress Pending
Kasi Lemmons Outstanding Director Pending
John Toll Outstanding Cinematography Pending
Paul Tazewell Outstanding Costums Design Pending
Warren Alan Young Outstanding Production Design Pending
Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle Awards 2020 "Stand Up" (by Joshuah Brian Campbell and Cynthia Erivo) Best Original Song Nominated
Critics' Choice Awards 2020 Cynthia Erivo Best Actress Nominated
"Stand Up" (by Joshuah Brian Campbell and Cynthia Erivo) Best Song Nominated
Golden Globe Awards 2020 Cynthia Erivo Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama Nominated
"Stand Up" (by Joshuah Brian Campbell and Cynthia Erivo) Best Original Song Nominated
Hollywood Film Awards 2019 Cynthia Erivo Breakout Actress Won
Hollywood Music in Media Awards 2019 Terence Blanchard Best Original Score – Feature Film Nominated
"Stand Up" (by Joshuah Brian Campbell and Cynthia Erivo) Best Original Song – Feature Film Won
Houston Film Critics Society Awards 2020 "Stand Up" (by Joshuah Brian Campbell and Cynthia Erivo) Best Original Song Pending
Las Vegas Film Critics Society Awards 2019[28] "Stand Up" (by Bruce Channel, Ricky Ray Rector & Sonny Throckmorton) Best Song Won
London Critics Circle Film Awards 2020[29] Cynthia Erivo Best British/Irish Actress Pending
Mill Valley Film Festival 2019 Kasi Lemmons Mind the Gap Award Won
Music City Film Critics Association Awards 2020[30] "Stand Up" (by Bruce Channel, Ricky Ray Rector & Sonny Throckmorton) Best Song Pending
NAACP Image Award 2020[31] "Harriet" Outstanding Motion Picture Pending
Outstanding Ensemble Cast in a Motion Picture Pending
Cynthia Erivo Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture Pending
Outstanding Breakthrough Performance in Motion Picture Pending
Leslie Odom, Jr. Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture Pending
Janelle Monáe Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture Pending
Kasi Lemmons Outstanding Directing in a Motion Picture (Film) Pending
Kasi Lemmons and Gregory Allen Howard Outstanding Writing in a Motion Picture (Film) Pending
“Harriet (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)” (by Terence Blanchard) Outstanding Soundtrack/Compilation Album Pending
"Stand Up" (by Joshuah Brian Campbell and Cynthia Erivo) Outstanding Song – Traditional Pending
Palm Springs International Film Festival 2020[32] Cynthia Erivo Breakthrough Performance Award Won
Philadelphia Film Critics Circle Awards 2019 "Harriet" Elaine May Award Won
Satellite Awards 2020 Cynthia Erivo Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama Nominated
Terence Blanchard Best Original Score Nominated
Screen Actors Guild Awards 2020 Cynthia Erivo Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role Nominated
Society of Composers and Lyricists Awards 2019 [33] "Stand Up" (by Joshuah Brian Campbell and Cynthia Erivo) Outstanding Original Song for Visual Media Won
St. Louis Film Critics Association Awards 2020[34] Cynthia Erivo Best Actress Nominated
Women Film Critics Circle Awards 2019 Cynthia Erivo Best Actress Won
Best Female Action Hero Won
Janelle Monáe Invisible Woman Award Won
Kasi Lemmons Best Movie by a Woman Won
"Harriet" Josephine Baker Award Won
Karen Morley Award Won

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Harriet". Toronto International Film Festival. Retrieved July 23, 2019.
  2. ^ a b Rubin, Rebecca (November 3, 2019). "Box Office: 'Terminator: Dark Fate' Fizzles With $29 Million Debut". Variety. Retrieved November 3, 2019.
  3. ^ a b c "Harriet (2019)". Box Office Mojo. IMDb. Retrieved January 17, 2020.
  4. ^ "Harriet (2019)". The Numbers. Retrieved January 19, 2020.
  5. ^ Erbland, Kate (September 18, 2018). "Cynthia Erivo Responds to Harriet Tubman Casting Backlash: 'I Cannot Tell How Protective I Am of This Woman'". IndieWire. Retrieved April 11, 2019.
  6. ^ Busch, Anita (May 2, 2016). "Harriet Tubman Feature Film In Works From Macro And New Balloon". Deadline Hollywood.
  7. ^ N'Duka, Amanda (February 8, 2017). "Cynthia Erivo To Star As Harriet Tubman In Upcoming 'Harriet' Biopic". Deadline.
  8. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (September 13, 2018). "Focus Features Moving Forward With Harriet Tubman Pic Starring Cynthia Erivo". Deadline. Retrieved October 11, 2019.
  9. ^ N'Duka, Amanda; Wiseman, Andreas (September 21, 2018). "Focus Features' 'Harriet' Biopic Adds Vanessa Bell Calloway, 'Seven Seconds' Actor Zackary Momoh & More". Deadline. Retrieved October 11, 2019.
  10. ^ Galuppo, Mia (October 2, 2018). "Janelle Monae Joins Cynthia Erivo in Harriet Tubman Biopic". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved October 11, 2019.
  11. ^ Curran, Colleen (October 3, 2018). "'Harriet' feature film biopic to start filming in Petersburg, Virginia next week". The Richmond Times-Dispatch. Retrieved April 11, 2019.
  12. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (October 4, 2018). "'Harriet' Adds 'Queen Sugar's Omar J. Dorsey, 'Colony's Tory Kittles & More". Deadline.
  13. ^ "Following Harriet". Official Tourism Website of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Virginia Tourism Corporation. Retrieved January 15, 2020.
  14. ^ Lang, Brent (July 23, 2019). "Toronto Film Festival: 'Joker,' 'Ford v Ferrari,' 'Hustlers' Among Big Premieres". Variety. Retrieved July 23, 2019.
  15. ^ Rubin, Rebecca (October 29, 2019). "Box Office: 'Terminator: Dark Fate' to Take Down 'Harriet,' 'Motherless Brooklyn'". Variety. Retrieved October 29, 2019.
  16. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony; Tartaglione, Nancy (October 30, 2019). "'Terminator: Dark Fate' Eyes $125M Global Weekend, But Will Franchise "Be Back" Stateside?". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved October 30, 2019.
  17. ^ a b D'Alessandro, Anthony (November 3, 2019). "How 'Terminator: Dark Fate' Conked Out With $27M+ & Why 'The Irishman' Is Not A Missed Strategic Opportunity – Box Office". Deadline. Retrieved November 3, 2019.
  18. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (November 10, 2019). "How 'Doctor Sleep' Went Into A Coma At The B.O. With Dreary $14M+ Opening, Following Surprise $17M+ Attack By 'Midway' – Update". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved November 10, 2019.
  19. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (November 16, 2019). "'Ford v Ferrari' Cruising To $28M+, 'Charlie's Angels' Kicked Out Of Heaven With $10M+ Start". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved November 21, 2019.
  20. ^ "Harriet (2019)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved December 29, 2019.
  21. ^ "Harriet (2019)". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved November 30, 2019.
  22. ^ Reed, Rex (November 1, 2019). "With 'Harriet,' Cynthia Erivo Takes a Giant Leap Towards Stardom". Observer. Retrieved November 6, 2019.
  23. ^ Roeper, Richard (October 30, 2019). "'Harriet': Cynthia Erivo convincingly plays the freedom fighter as both rebellious slave and action hero". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved November 6, 2019.
  24. ^ Eric Kohn (September 11, 2019). "'Ford v Ferrari' Review: Matt Damon and Christian Bale Power Old-School Race Car Drama". IndieWire. Penske Business Media. Retrieved September 11, 2019.
  25. ^ Gleiberman, Owen (September 11, 2019). "Toronto Film Review: 'Harriet'". Variety. Retrieved September 11, 2019.
  26. ^ "The 2019 Black Film Critics Circle (BFCC) Winners". Retrieved December 29, 2019.
  27. ^ "Black Reel Awards 2020". Retrieved December 13, 2019.
  28. ^ "Las Vegas Film Critics Society 2019 Awards". Retrieved December 29, 2019.
  29. ^ "2020 London Critics' Circle Film Awards". Retrieved December 29, 2019.
  30. ^ "2020 The Music City Film Critics Association Nominations Are In". Retrieved December 29, 2019.
  31. ^ "NAACP | NOMINEES ANNOUNCED FOR 51st NAACP IMAGE AWARDS". NAACP. January 9, 2020. Retrieved January 9, 2020.
  32. ^ "2020 Palm Springs International Film Festival". Retrieved December 29, 2019.
  33. ^ "Society of Composers and Lyricists Awards 2019". Retrieved December 14, 2019.
  34. ^ "Annual StLFCA Awards: 2020 winners and nominations". Retrieved December 14, 2019.

External links[edit]