‘Harriet’ strikes audiences with emotional portrayal of Harriet Tubman’s life


Graphic by Natalie Brink

“Harriet” hit theaters Nov. 1. It tells the story of Underground Railroad conductor Harriet Tubman.

Natalie Brink, News Editor

I saw “Harriet,” a mostly historically accurate movie about the life of Harriet Tubman, focusing on the trials she faced after freeing herself. The movie follows her escape to the North, her involvement with the Underground Railroad and what happened after Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act. This movie is an emotional ode to the black population who suffered slavery as well as the woman who worked so hard to free them.

Harriet Tubman, born Araminta Ross (Cynthia Erivo), flees the plantation of Edward (Mike Marunde) and Eliza Brodess (Jennifer Nettles), who own Harriet and her family. To escape, she must leave her husband John Tubman (Zackary Momoh), a free man, as well as her parents and her siblings. Once in Philadelphia, Harriet becomes involved with a society whose purpose is to rescue slaves from the South. William Still (Leslie Odom Jr.), a leader of this society, helps Harriet with her mission of rescuing her family and other enslaved people by inducting her as a conductor on the Underground Railroad. As she travels back to Maryland, the Brodess’ son, Gideon (Joe Alwyn), does his best to hunt her down.

My favorite aspect of this film was the score. It encapsulated every single emotion Harriet felt, from the fear of her flight to the border, to the wonder of stepping into Pennsylvania as a free woman. Though the action on screen was a harrowing — if watered down — glimpse into the daily plight enslaved men, women and children faced, the dramatic sweeps of music solidified the terror of slavery. There was one scene where dozens of slaves ran to freedom, and the accompanying music captured all their fears as well as all their hope. 

The writing was also fantastic. Harriet was a short-tempered woman who did the opposite of what anyone told her to do, and her relationship with Gideon, the son of her owner, gave more perspective into the lives of slaves. Of course, there were moments that pandered, rising speeches about not giving up and fighting for what is right. These speeches weren’t bad, but they stick out against the flowing, natural dialogue in the rest of the movie. The themes they promoted would still exist in the movie without them, albeit more subtly.

The movie did drag on a little longer than it needed to. Toward the end, there was a scene that was the perfect place for the movie to end, heroine riding into the sun on horseback and all. However, afterward the movie jumped a couple of years ahead to show a different aspect of Harriet’s life during the Civil War. The scenes didn’t add anything to the movie, and her being involved in the war was mentioned again in the movie’s closing. “Harriet” lost some of its emotional impact from having those few scenes dragging behind the main story.

Overall, if you love period pieces or you just want to learn more about Harriet Tubman’s life, I would recommend this movie to you. It’s very emotional, but only because it is a poignet look back on one of the dark times of our nation’s history.