Harriet (film)

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Theatrical release poster
Directed byKasi Lemmons
Screenplay by
Story byGregory Allen Howard
Produced by
CinematographyJohn Toll
Edited byWyatt Smith
Music byTerence Blanchard
Distributed byFocus Features (United States)
Universal Pictures[1] (International)
Release dates
  • September 10, 2019 (2019-09-10) (TIFF)
  • November 1, 2019 (2019-11-01) (United States)
Running time
125 minutes[2]
CountryUnited States
Budget$17 million[3]
Box office$44 million[4][5]

Harriet is a 2019 American biographical film directed by Kasi Lemmons, who also wrote the screenplay with Gregory Allen Howard. It stars Cynthia Erivo as abolitionist Harriet 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, and was a moderate commercial success, grossing $44 million worldwide against its production budget of $17 million. The film received several accolades and nominations, particularly for Erivo's performance, which garnered her nominations at the Academy Awards, Golden Globes, and the Screen Actors Guild. For the song "Stand Up", Erivo and Joshuah Brian Campbell received Oscar, Grammy and Golden Globe nominations.


In 1849 Maryland, a slave state, Araminta "Minty" Ross is newly married to freedman John Tubman. Minty is a slave on the Brodess plantation, along with her mother and sister. Reverend Green finishes his sermon advising obedience and to follow the Lord's will. Minty's father, Ben, also a freedman, approaches her owner, Edward Brodess, with a lawyer's letter saying that Minty's mother, Harriet "Rit", was to have been freed when she was 45 and her children born free. John and Minty want to start a family and want their children to be born free. Brodess angrily tears up the letter.

In despair, Minty prays for God to kill Brodess and is caught by Brodess' adult son Gideon, who castigates her. When Brodess dies shortly afterward, Gideon offers Minty for sale. Minty, who suffers "spells" since being struck in the head as a girl, has a vision of herself escaping to freedom. She decrees these scenes as visions from God and decides to escape. John offers to accompany Minty, but she leaves him behind, fearing he would lose his freedom if caught with her. Minty meets with her father who tells her to go to Reverend Green for help with her journey.

Minty travels all night and is pursued by Gideon and other men on horseback. Eventually, Gideon corners her at a bridge over a river, where he appeals to her faith and even promises not to sell her. Minty jumps anyway, proclaiming her will to "be free or die".

Minty is presumed drowned but successfully makes it to Wilmington, Delaware and locates the abolitionist Thomas Garrett. He takes her to the Pennsylvania border and Minty walks the remaining 25 miles to Philadelphia, where she meets William Still, chairman of the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society. William encourages her to take a new free name and she chooses Harriet after her mother and Tubman after her husband. Harriet temporarily lodges at Marie Buchanon's, the daughter of a freed slave who was born free and is now a boarding-house proprietor.

After a year in Philadelphia, Harriet begs William to assist bringing her family over. He tells her helping slaves has become harder. Refusing to give up, Harriet successfully makes it to John's homestead with forged papers only to find he has remarried and is expecting a child. Devastated, Harriet receives further visions and is found by her father. With the exception of her parents and sister, Rachel, Harriet leads nine other slaves to safety, five of them being from Gideon's farm. The next day, Gideon realizes and threatens Rachel—who has just given birth—and her children. She reveals to Gideon that Harriet is alive and has recently returned. Gideon thinks this unlikely. Meanwhile, Harriet is admitted to the committee of the Underground Railroad for her actions.

Harriet continues to guide slaves to freedom as a conductor on the Underground Railroad, and is dubbed "Moses". However, Rachel is a house slave and will not run because Gideon has sold her children and she hopes one day to be told where they are. She meets Walter who had worked for Bigger Long as a slave catcher and decides to go with her. The Fugitive Slave Act passes, meaning escaped slaves are in jeopardy of being brought back from free states. Harriet hears that Rachel has died.

Gideon is livid when he discovers that Harriet is "Moses". He pursues her to Philadelphia along with Bigger Long, who beats Marie to death. Harriet then flees to Canada with help from her friends. After receiving a vision that her father is in imminent danger, Harriet returns and takes both her parents north. Over time, the Brodess plantation falls into financial ruin. Brodess' widow vows to catch Harriet, using her sister's children as bait, but Harriet's team overwhelms Gideon's siblings and retrieves the remaining slaves.

In a final confrontation, Gideon shoots Bigger Long dead as he is about to kill Harriet. Harriet then subdues Gideon, but allows him to live, prophesying that he would die on a battlefield fighting for a lost cause and the sin of slavery. Telling him that her people would be free, she takes his horse and rides away. Harriet later leads an armed expedition of 150 black soldiers in the Combahee River Raid. The epilogue describes some of her accomplishments: She personally freed more than 70 slaves, was a Union spy during the Civil War, lead 150 black soldiers in the Combahee River Raid, freeing over 750 slaves, and advocated for women's suffrage. She died at the approximate age of 91 with the last words: "I go to prepare a place for you".



In 2015, Viola Davis was set to star in and produce a Harriet Tubman biopic; however, it never came to fruition.[6] Development on a new film began in May 2016.[7] In February 2017, Cynthia Erivo was cast as Tubman, with Seith Mann then set to direct, from a screenplay by Gregory Allen Howard.[8]

Further development on the film was announced in September 2018, with Focus Features set as the new distributor, Kasi Lemmons attached as director (the first feature film she directed after the box office failure of Black Nativity.), and Leslie Odom Jr., Joe Alwyn, Jennifer Nettles, and Clarke Peters, and others, added to the cast.[1][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, Tamworth, Petersburg, and Mathews. Berkeley Plantation in Charles City County was used for Auburn, New York.[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.[4][5] Its release for Blu-ray and DVD sales took place on January 14, 2020.[5]


Box office[edit]

Harriet grossed $43.1 million in the United States and Canada and $953,432 in other territories for a worldwide total of $44 million,[4] plus $4.8 million with home video sales,[5] against a production budget of $17 million.[3][4][5] In North America, the film 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][3] The film made $7.4 million in its second weekend, finishing sixth, and $4.6 million on its third, finishing tenth.[18][19]

Critical response[edit]

Cynthia Erivo's portrayal of Harriet Tubman garnered critical acclaim and she earned her a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actress

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 74% based on 235 reviews, with an average rating of 6.6/10. 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 41 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's Movies for Grownups Awards 2020 Kasi Lemmons, Gregory Allen Howard Best Screenwriter Nominated
Harriet Best Time Capsule Won
Academy Awards 2020 Cynthia Erivo Best Actress Nominated
"Stand Up" (by Joshuah Brian Campbell and Cynthia Erivo) Best Original Song Nominated
African-American Film Critics Association 2019 Harriet Top 10 Films Won
Black Reel Awards 2020[26] Cynthia Erivo Outstanding Actress Nominated
Janelle Monáe Outstanding Supporting Actress Nominated
Kasi Lemmons Outstanding Director Nominated
John Toll Outstanding Cinematography Nominated
Paul Tazewell Outstanding Costume Design Nominated
Warren Alan Young Outstanding Production Design Nominated
Casting Society of America 2020[27] Kim Coleman, Erica Arvold, Anne Chapman, Meghan Apostoles Studio or Independent – Drama 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
Grammy Awards 2021 "Stand Up" (by Joshuah Brian Campbell and Cynthia Erivo) Best Song Written for Visual Media Nominated
Heartland Film Festival[28] 2019 Harriet Truly Moving Picture Award Won
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
London Critics Circle Film Awards 2020[29] Cynthia Erivo Best British/Irish Actress Won
Mill Valley Film Festival 2019 Kasi Lemons Mind the Gap Award Won
Movieguide Awards 2020[30] Harriet Best Movie for Mature Audiences Nominated
Epiphany Prize for Inspiring Movies Nominated
Faith & Freedom Award for Movies Won
Cynthia Erivo Grace Prize, Movies Nominated
NAACP Image Awards 2020[31] Harriet Outstanding Motion Picture Nominated
Outstanding Ensemble Cast in a Motion Picture Nominated
Cynthia Erivo Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture Nominated
Outstanding Breakthrough Performance in Motion Picture Nominated
Leslie Odom Jr. Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture Nominated
Janelle Monáe Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture Nominated
Kasi Lemmons Outstanding Directing in a Motion Picture (Film) Nominated
Kasi Lemmons and Gregory Allen Howard Outstanding Writing in a Motion Picture (Film) Nominated
"Harriet (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)" (by Terence Blanchard) Outstanding Soundtrack/Compilation Album Nominated
"Stand Up" (by Joshuah Brian Campbell and Cynthia Erivo) Outstanding Song – Traditional Nominated
Palm Springs International Film Festival 2020[32] Cynthia Erivo Breakthrough Performance Award Won
Santa Barbara International Film Festival 2020 Cynthia Erivo Virtuoso 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
Women Film Critics Circle 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. ^ a b D'Alessandro, Anthony (September 13, 2018). "Focus Features Moving Forward With Harriet Tubman Pic Starring Cynthia Erivo". Deadline. Retrieved October 11, 2019.
  2. ^ "Harriet". Toronto International Film Festival. Retrieved July 23, 2019.
  3. ^ a b c Rubin, Rebecca (November 3, 2019). "Box Office: 'Terminator: Dark Fate' Fizzles With $29 Million Debut". Variety. Retrieved November 3, 2019.
  4. ^ a b c d "Harriet (2019)". Box Office Mojo. IMDb. Retrieved January 19, 2020.
  5. ^ a b c d e "Harriet (2019) - Financial Information". The Numbers. Nash Information Services, LLC. Retrieved January 19, 2020.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ Busch, Anita (May 2, 2016). "Harriet Tubman Feature Film In Works From Macro And New Balloon". Deadline Hollywood.
  8. ^ N'Duka, Amanda (February 8, 2017). "Cynthia Erivo To Star As Harriet Tubman In Upcoming 'Harriet' Biopic". Deadline.
  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. Retrieved October 10, 2021.
  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. ^ "Black Reel Awards 2020". Archived from the original on December 12, 2019. Retrieved December 13, 2019.
  27. ^ "35th ARTIOS AWARDS WINNERS". www.castingsociety.com. Retrieved December 30, 2023.
  28. ^ "Heartland Film Festival 2019". Retrieved December 29, 2019.
  29. ^ "2020 London Critics' Circle Film Awards". Retrieved December 29, 2019.
  30. ^ "2020 Movieguide Awards". January 9, 2020. Retrieved January 26, 2020.
  31. ^ "NAACP | NOMINEES ANNOUNCED FOR 51st NAACP IMAGE AWARDS". NAACP. January 9, 2020. Retrieved July 17, 2021.
  32. ^ "2020 Palm Springs International Film Festival". Retrieved December 29, 2019.

External links[edit]