We have all heard the name Harriet Tubman - but at least for me, the story of what she did has somewhat been lost over time. This could come down to me being Australian and knowing little about American history, especially during Civil War times, so I was excited to go into the film and excited to learn about a history I'm not too familiar with.
Minty (Cynthia Erivo, 'Widows', 'Bad Times at the El Royale') escapes from her slave owner, Gideon Brodess (Joe Alwyn, 'The Favourite', 'Mary Queen of Scots'), and makes it to Philadelphia. She meets Marie Buchanon (Janelle Monàe, 'Hidden Figures', 'UglyDolls'), who is the owner of a boarding house, and William Still (Leslie Odom Jr, 'Murder on the Orient Express'), an abolitionist who gets Minty involved in the Underground Railroad - but she is first told to give herself a new free name, Harriet Tubman, and she begins to free slaves using the railroad, a network of secret routes and safe houses.
'Harriet' as presented is a good movie, but sadly it fails to reach the exceptional heights that the studio was hoping for. "Oscar Bait" is a term thrown around a lot, but it's the best way to describe 'Harriet' as the credits roll. You can the studio was really hoping this would have a similar impact to '12 Years a Slave' in terms of critical gold, but preaching to those awards voters really cost us a groundbreaking film. The film flows more like a superhero origin story, with 'Harriet' escaping and then "forming" a group to free slaves. The film ends with a prologue of the Civil War and Harriet holding a gun in front of a "team" ready to battle. While this did happen the way it's framed, it doesn't feel right for this story. Even the film's posters are very superhero-esque. The film is still enlightening and captivating, but just feels that it was hindered from reaching new heights due to the studio's intentions.
The acting across the board is amazing. Cynthia Erivo is an absolute powerhouse on Broadway, and while she has done some filmic roles, 'Harriet' proves she is an ultimate triple threat. We get to hear her beautiful singing voice performing some 'Songs of the Underground Railroad', as well as the truly moving tie-in credits song 'Stand Up', and I highly recommend watching the jaw-dropping Oscars performance (bring tissues, as there will not be a dry eye). This made me wonder what 'Harriet: The Musical' could be like. She more than deserved the two Oscar nominations she earned at this year's awards. Also from the Broadway world we have 'Hamilton's' Leslie Odom Jr, who is always instantly charming, Janelle Monàe as always is giving us her all, and finally Joe Alwyn (who one day I might not refer to as just Taylor Swift's boyfriend) as the villain is perfectly hateable.
The acting across the board is amazing. Cynthia Erivo is an absolute powerhouse on Broadway, and while she has done some filmic roles, 'Harriet' proves she is an ultimate triple threat.
'Harriet' stumbles in its clichéd storytelling and focus on going for gold - but that's not to undermine the fantastic acting, groundbreaking music, and of course the incredible true story of Harriet Tubman's bravery. With Black Lives Matter, the fight to end violence and systemic racism towards black people is rooted in the United States' DNA and 'Harriet', and sadly serves as yet another reminder of the constant mistreatment of African Americans. Films about slavery are still relevant, as that same discrimination is still taking place today. I want to end with lyrics from the film's song 'Stand Up' which feel very potent: "I'm going to stand up, take my people with me, together we are going, to a brand-new home."
For more information on Black Lives Matter and to find out what you can do, please go to www.blacklivesmatter.com.