Cinematic Releases: Harriet (2019) - Reviewed

Make no mistake about it, Harriet is an action movie. The heroine may not have sweaty, bulging biceps or a propensity to walk coldly away from explosions, but she is a savior, of perhaps beyond Biblical proportions. Having earned the moniker, “Moses” for freeing approximately seventy slaves over about thirteen missions on the Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman, at least in the film, Harriet, had superpowers.

Not only did (the filmic) Harriet manage to escape and allow others to escape the bonds of American slavery, she did so with the grace of God. Partway through Harriet, it’s revealed that Tubman was given a skull fracture by one of her masters. Perhaps giving way to some minor brain damage, Tubman would have “spells” wherein her prayers would be answered with auspicious premonitions that would, time and time again, aid in her quest to ensure freedom for as many souls as possible.

The beginning of Harriet brings us toward the end of Tubman’s previous life, wherein she was known as Araminta “Minty” Ross. She and her already-freed husband made arrangements with a lawyer to attempt to render any future children of hers free-born. Scoffing at this maneuver, her master denied her request, and thus help set in motion the animus for Minty’s escape and eventual rebirth as the abolitionist known as Harriet Tubman.

Watching Harriet raises a few questions that have been perhaps already answered by the historical record, but whose answers may have also been lost or even deliberately obscured by the sands of time. The first of these questions being raised is, “how did white slave owners in America manage to enslave black people for so long and so prominently?”. Over the course of the film, it becomes clearer that few people had the resolve that Harriet Tubman did, which was to value liberty over a life of slavery, even if it meant death.

Heartbreak ensues when Harriet, eventually armed with the know-how of how to get people out of slavery, meets people, including her own family, who were reluctant to make the bold move to escape, in order to hold onto their life of oppression. The historical record, along with the movie shows that Harriet lost her first husband to a marriage to another woman, but gained a mission in life to emancipate others.

The film crescendos towards its end as Tubman ascends to the rarified air of the Underground Railroad, wherein she becomes its top conductor, in addition to leading Union scouts in a mission that freed over 750 slaves. 

Harriet may not be a masterpiece, but it is a great action and superhero movie alternative for those tired of explosions and over-quippy one-liners.

--Blake Pynnonen