The Lord works in mysterious ways. So does Harriet Tubman. In “Harriet,” the two team up to tell the story of an American heroine who played an important role in ending slavery and emerged as an inspirational leader during the Civil War.
Harriet Tubman is known as a key figure in United States history. She was born a slave and became part of the Underground Railroad, working to free slaves from the South in the years before the Civil War. But many of the details of her life are shrouded in mystery. Little has ever been revealed about her life and how she became an American icon. In “Harriet,” directed by Kasi Lemmons, she is portrayed as a woman of deep faith and dedicated to putting an end to one of the ugliest chapters in history. Lemmons tells Tubman’s story with the pace of a biblical hymn by creating a character who is part Spider-Man, part Princess Leia, with incredibly, almost prophetic, instincts and a leader of a resistance movement at a time when the nation was torn apart.
Harriet Tubman, played by Cynthia Erivo, starts her story as a slave girl named Minty. Minty, although born into slavery, wants to see her children born with freedom and dreams of making that desire a reality. But Minty also has a special relationship with God, which is repeatedly communicated through the movie. Minty has visions, foreshadowing events and sending warnings. They also guide her to safety and provide a beacon of hope for those who follow her. She has an almost super-hero ability to sense danger, much like Spider-Man, and can avoid it with divine intervention.
But that is only part of Harriet Tubman’s super powers.
Once she escapes her slave owners in the South and reaches Philadelphia to earn her freedom, she becomes a leading abolitionist. She changes her name to Harriet Tubman, one of many transformations she goes through in the movie, and begins her crusade to free slaves. It doesn’t take much time for her to decide to return to the South and reunite with her husband and family to try and guide them to freedom too.
Here is where the Lord sends Harriet some troubling messages. Her husband remarries and refuses to leave his new family. Her sister is afraid to leave her children with their slave owners and escape with Harriet. These events test Harriet’s faith and purpose. But it does not keep her from continuing her mission of freeing slaves. Much like Princess Leia, leading the resistance is more important than God’s intentions. There is a bigger plan and Harriet Tubman refuses to stray from the path.
There are a couple characters who Harriet couldn’t save. But there is one who she saves without much thought. Walter, played by Henry Hunter Hall, enters the story as a slave hunter, a traitor working to return runaway slaves to their owners. He works against Harriet in the beginning, but eventually has a change of heart and loyalties to become one of Harriet’s biggest allies. He discovers a higher calling with the help of Harriet, and wants to talk to God, like Harriet, because he has some splaining to do. Walter is one of the more compelling characters in the movie.
In the end, Harriet Tubman freed 70 slaves as a conductor in the Underground Railroad. She is portrayed as an underground heroine who goes on to free nearly a thousand more slaves during the Civil War and becomes a successful military leader at a time when black women were mostly invisible. That might be her greatest super power — the ability to grow larger than life.
“Harriet” also stars Leslie Odom Jr. as William Still and Joe Alwyn as Gideon Brodess.
“Harriet” opens in theaters on Friday.