HOLLYWOOD—I cannot believe its 2019 and this is the first time that a movie about abolitionist, slave and crusader Harriet Tubman is finally making its way to the big screen. I mean this is one of the greatest historical figures of all times and for it to take decades before this woman gets her due on the big screen is so alarming. However, those expecting an intense drama might be disappointed with what is presented on the big screen.
“Harriet” stars Tony Award winner Cynthia Erivo in the iconic role, and the actress proves her acting talent to great lengths. She immerses herself into the role that is multi-layered delivering fear, sadness, disgust, rage, anger and a bevy of other emotions that should have plenty discussing her name come awards season. Is it a standout performance that immediately seals the deal as an Oscar contender, not quite in my opinion? That could be a direct result of the narrative that delivers this aura of Harriet as being a superhero.
That was the one of the things that really gave me trepidations about this flick. Tubman is indeed a superhero in her own right, but the way that movie is being sold almost feels like a Marvel movie. When I think of Harriet, I don’t want to equate her with a Marvel superhero, because her accomplishments run circles around any fictional superhero and I hate that notion.
There are strong supporting players in Leslie Odom Jr. as William Still who helps Harriet with the Underground Railroad in her quest to rescue other slaves during her mission. There is also Janelle Monae who portrays Marie Buchanon an ally of Tubman, and then a villainous performance by Joe Alwyn as Gideon Brodess, Harriet’s slave owner who makes it his mission to recapture her after she escapes. Alwyn’s take on the character comes across as a bit heightened. We know slave owners were vicious back in the day, but his performance is not as layered and feels a bit one note for my liking. Director Kasi Lemmons captures beautiful scenery, but drama just comes across a bit too action-heavy for me to fully love what I witnessed on the big screen.
Erivo does the heavy lifting for this movie with a transcendent performance, but that alone cannot save the movie. It’s similar to “Judy” in terms of the acting, which is top-notch, but the narrative doesn’t live up to that stellar acting to deliver a well-rounded, invigorating movie from start to finish. “Harriet” is indeed an important piece of history that all of America should know about, I just question if this approach to tell one of the greatest heroes in American history was the only option.