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‘Harriet’ Back At Digital Gym Cinema
Tubman biopic earns two Oscar nominations
Monday, January 20, 2020
"A Woman Called Moses" (1978, TV mini-series with Cicely Tyson as Tubman)
"Eve's Bayou" (1997)
"Whispers of Angels: A Story of the Underground Railroad" (2002, TV docudrama)
"Birth of a Nation" (2016, about Nat Turner)
I'm so glad "Harriet" is back in theaters because I missed a chance to review it when it opened.
Tubman became a conductor on the Underground Railroad after escaping slavery in 1849 and becoming an abolitionist and political activist. She risked her own freedom in order to return to the South repeatedly to free others. That story would seem irresistible to Hollywood yet Kasi Lemmon’s film "Harriet" is the first to put her life on the big screen. Cicely Tyson starred in a 1978 TV mini-series about Tubman and a 2002 TV docudrama looked to the Underground Railroad that Tubman was a part of.
Lemmons gave us the stunning "Eve’s Bayou" in 1997 and has been too long absent from the director’s chair. Her "Harriet" biopic may trip over some tropes, but more often it sidesteps them to deliver a film that exudes poetry and a surprising sense of faith. Lemmons focuses on Tubman's determination to free herself from slavery and avoids giving screen time to the slave owners. We have seen slave owners exercise their control over slaves in other films so it is refreshing for Lemmons to focus instead on one woman's successful rebellion.
As Tubman, Cythia Erivo earned a well-deserved Oscar nomination for best actress. She gives us a woman who’s driven by a ferocious need to be free and to not merely standby while others are enslaved.
Lemmons keeps our attention on Tubman and does not allow other characters or celebrity cameos to steal her spotlight. This story has taken too long to be told on screen but Lemmons and Erivo do it justice.
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