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MOVIE REVIEW

Harriet

MPAA Rating: PG-13-Rating (MPAA) for thematic content throughout, violent material and language including racial epithets.

Reviewed by: Samiatu Dosunmu
CONTRIBUTOR

Offensive
Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
• Adults • Young-Adults • Teens
Genre:
Biography History Drama
Length:
2 hr. 5 min.
Year of Release:
2019
USA Release:
September 10, 2019 (festival)
November 1, 2019 (wide—2,059 theaters)
Copyright, Focus Features, a subsidiary of Universal Pictures, a division of NBCUniversal/Comcast click photos to ENLARGE Copyright, Focus Features, a subsidiary of Universal Pictures, a division of NBCUniversal/Comcast Copyright, Focus Features, a subsidiary of Universal Pictures, a division of NBCUniversal/Comcast Copyright, Focus Features, a subsidiary of Universal Pictures, a division of NBCUniversal/Comcast Copyright, Focus Features, a subsidiary of Universal Pictures, a division of NBCUniversal/Comcast
Relevant Issues
Copyright, Focus Features, a subsidiary of Universal Pictures, a division of NBCUniversal/Comcast

How does the true history of Harriet Tubman compare to the depiction in this movie?

Belief in God

About prayer and faith

The abolishment of slavery in America—largely led by Christians, their churches, and Republicans

RACISM—What are the consequences of racial prejudice and false beliefs about the origin of races? Answer

Racism, Racial Issues and Christianity
Get biblical answers to racial hot-topics. Where did the races come from? How did skin color come about? Why is it important to have a biblical foundation for such issues?
Copyright, Focus Features, a subsidiary of Universal Pictures, a division of NBCUniversal/Comcast

About murder

About the fall of mankind to worldwide depravity

What is SIN AND WICKEDNESS? Answer


American Civil War

Underground railroad

African Americans


Does the Bible condone slavery? Answer

Copyright, Focus Features, a subsidiary of Universal Pictures, a division of NBCUniversal/Comcast
Issue of pain and suffering

Death of a husband

About the fall of mankind to worldwide depravity

What is SIN AND WICKEDNESS? Answer


Why does God allow innocent people to suffer? Answer

What about the issue of suffering? Doesn’t this prove that there is no God and that we are on our own? Answer

Does God feel our pain? Answer

ORIGIN OF BAD THINGS—Why are they in our world if a good God created us? Answer

Did God make the world the way it is now? What kind of world would you create? Answer


Slaves and slavery as mentioned in the Bible

FOUNDING FATHERS AND SLAVERY—Were all of America’s Founding Fathers racists, pro-slavery, and hypocrites? Answer


For a follower of Christ, what is LOVE—a feeling, an emotion, or an action? Answer


What does the Bible say about WIDOWS?

Featuring: Cynthia ErivoHarriet Tubman—John’s wife and Ben and Rit’s daughter
Zackary Momoh … John Tubman—Harriet’s husband
Vanessa Bell Calloway … Rit Ross—Harriet’s mother and Ben’s wife
Clarke Peters … Ben Ross—Harriet’s father and Rit’s husband
Leslie Odom Jr. … William Still, a writer and abolitionist who connects Tubman with the Underground Railroad
Vondie Curtis-Hall … Reverend Samuel Green
Janelle MonáeMarie Buchanon—a proprietor and friend of Tubman
Joe AlwynGideon Brodess—Harriet’s slave owner
Jennifer NettlesEliza
Tim Guinee … Thomas Garrett
See all »
Director: Kasi Lemmons
Producer: Martin Chase Productions
New Balloon
Perfect World Pictures [China]
See all »
Distributor: Distributor: Focus Features. Trademark logo.
Focus Features, a subsidiary of Universal Pictures, a division of NBCUniversal/Comcast
Copyright, Focus Features, a subsidiary of Universal Pictures, a division of NBCUniversal/Comcast

Harriet Tubman (Cynthia Erivo) was born “Arminta” Ross, in Maryland. She was known to everyone as “Minty.” Viewers are first introduced to a daydreaming Minty lying in the grass near a riverbank. She is roused out of her daydream by her husband John Tubman (Zackary Momoh).

It is Sunday, and they quickly rush to Master Brodess (Mike Marunde) and his family’s home for a sermon held by Samuel Green (Vondie Curtis-Hall), an African American Reverend. As the slaves gather and engage in praise and worship, Reverend Green reminds them that they are to obey their Master as the Lord commands it.

After service, a nervous Minty and her husband John approach Mr. Brodess to discuss the matter of her freedom. Minty is still a slave, while her husband John is free. The matter troubles Minty because she desires to have children; her children would be born as slaves, therefore making them the property of Mr. Brodess. Their request quickly infuriates Mr. Brodess, and he dismisses them quickly. He also forbids John from visiting Minty. Later, Minty is chastised by Gideon (Joe Alwyn), Mr. Brodess’s son for her insolence. He reminds her that she is his property, which explains the reason she has not been sold.

Awhile later, Mr. Brodess dies. His much younger wife Eliza (Jennifer Nettles) takes over managing the farm. She is quickly overwhelmed by her husband’s debts; she orders that Harriet be sold. Word quickly reaches Harriet who decides to escape and fight for her freedom.

On her own, she is advised by her father, Ben Ross (Clarke Peters), a free slave, to seek guidance from Reverend Green. Reverend Green instructs Minty how to get to Pennsylvania, a Northern and free state. Through a series of trials and help from various safe houses that are part of the Underground Railroad, Harriet makes it to Pennsylvania.

She is quickly greeted by William Still (Leslie Odom Jr.) a writer, abolitionist and member of the Underground Railroad. In Mr. Still’s office, she decides to take the name of Harriet (her mother’s real name) and the surname Tubman, her husband’s last name. Mr. Still asks Harriet how she made it from Maryland to Pennsylvania, she simply responds that it was her faith in God. Harriet is then acquainted with Marie Buchanon (Janelle Monáe), an inn proprietor and freed-slave.

A year passes, Harriet, now a free slave, feels concerned about her family. She decides to return to Maryland despite the objection of Mr. Still. Harriet is illiterate. She approaches Ms. Buchanon who agrees to help her. She teaches her how to be a “lady” and act literate.

With Ms. Buchanon’s teaching, she returns to Maryland. She immediately locates her husband only to discover that he is now re-married to a freed slave and is about to become a father. Despite her hurt, she locates her family, and decides to bring a group of slaves including her brothers on the journey to Pennsylvania.

Harriet would eventually go on to making several trips back and forth from Maryland to Pennsylvania. Impressed by her resilience and lack of casualties, Mr. Still invites her as an official member of the Underground Railroad society, a committee comprised of fellow abolitionist who believed slavery should be outlawed.

As a member of the society, she is given the role of conductor. Through her role, she manages to bring hundreds of slaves to freedom. Harriet would go on to become a Commander of Operations of Intelligence Operations of the Union Army during the Civil war beginning in 1861. She is respected as one of the few females to have led an army of over 150 men. In her lifetime, Harriet freed over 300 slaves.

Spiritual exploration

Spiritual abuse was exacted by many Southern religious authorities of that era; one may be quick to question their spiritual walk. Is it possible that these spiritual leaders later received a conviction to not only speak the truth but repent? There is evidence. However, one should not be quick to judge, as there was not only a misunderstanding of the gospel, but portions were withheld. It was a strategy to keep slaves in line, given that many were illiterate. Spiritual leaders would often remind slaves of Colossians 3:22 NIV—“Slaves [or Bondservants], obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.”

However, they often omitted Colossians 4:1 ESV—“Masters, treat your slaves [or bondservants] justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.” Paul’s definition of slaves and bondservants is different than the North American interpretation; some bondservants and slaves of the time were actually paid workers. Paul’s instruction is a guide to how we should behave towards our employer and in turn how an employer should treat their workers. Together, God has ordered family relationships from Creation.

In terms of conviction, there is evidence of repentance from spiritual leaders. In Harriet’s case, Reverend Green continued to guide slaves to freedom in her absence and eventually became part of the Underground Railroad network, thereby, risking his stature among slave owners. This was his way of showing repentance in the eyes of God.

Harriet Tubman’s identity

Historically, Harriet Tubman is seen as a “Christ-like figure” by some, because of her incredible courage. She is dubbed “Black Moses” because of her commitment to not only freeing slaves herself but promoting the abolition of slavery. Her ordeal mirrors that of the biblical version of Moses. However, did she see herself as a “Christ-like figure”? No, she did not.

To understand Harriet Tubman, one must understand the evolution of her identity in Christ. Jon Foreman lead singer, guitarist, main songwriter and co-founder of the alternative rock band Switchfoot, said in an interview, “It is easier to believe in God than God loves me.” Harriet was born a slave and identified as such until she realized that God is freedom.

“Rescue me from my enemies, O God. Protect me from those who have come to destroy me.” —Psalms 59:1

Harriet begins to see that God loves her because he brought her to freedom. Harriet commented on her first few years as a free woman, “I was free, but there was no one to welcome me to the land of freedom. I was a stranger in a strange land.” She feels a sense of duty to return to Maryland to check on her family, her determination was a demonstration of her commitment of her faith in God.

“But if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed but let him glorify God in having that name.” —1 Peter 4:16

Each trip she made, she felt it was worth the risk because the cause was greater than her personal safety. However, the film omitted a crucial piece: Harriet often had to work several jobs to save up for her trips back and forth from Maryland to Pennsylvania and eventually Canada. Once she understood her identity that she is a child of God and ultimate freedom is with him, she was able to discern and understand her purpose; her work was to serve others, which is a way to honor God. Albeit, she was illiterate, she understood the significance of Colossians 3:22.

Movie Making Quality and historical inaccuracy

Christians need to be mindful that this a secular film; there will be a misunderstanding of the Trinity. The understanding of Harriet Tubman’s faith is a subject for debate. The film portrays Harriet as a woman with a belief in God who uses her connection to Christ to guide herself and others to freedom. At times, her faith was the subject of mockery; it was offensive. When Harriet returns to check on her family, a year into freedom, and decides to bring a group of slaves with her, her constant pause is interpreted as “Wait… she is listening for God again?”

Harriet Tubman often suffered from dizzy spells due to a head injury she sustained as a teenager. The film interprets her condition as premonitions and insinuates that she was a prophet without understanding the significance of this spiritual gift. Furthermore, there is no historical evidence to support that claim.

She was a teacher; she used her experience to educate others, and it served her well as a spy during the Civil War. However, again the film omits that she was working to care for the sick and displaced slaves who were wounded and had nowhere to go.

There are also Feminist undertones, choosing to focus on her gender to underline her accomplishments during the Civil War.

Warning: There is an offensive scene where Harriet confronts her former slave master Gideon. As she is confronting him on the ethical reality that “God did not make people to own people.” The film insinuates that she can hear and see men fighting for freedom. This is meant to be a foreshadowing of the Civil War. However, the way this scene is executed in occult-like in fashion, and I felt disrespected Harriet Tubman’s memory.

  • Violence: Heavy— includes… • man grabs woman by her throat and threatens to break her neck • man repeatedly punches woman in face and then fatally stomps on her face • dialog about past physical abuse by white men (torture, rape, etc.) • man shot in head (bloody) • etc.
  • Profane language: Moderately Heavy— Harriet Tubman only uses God’s name in prayer. Aside from that, there is light use of words like “Oh my g*d,” “great god,” “Gideon-d*mn,” “h*ll” (5), “d*mn” (2), “she’s speaking to God” that are used out of context.
  • Vulgar/Crude language: Moderately Heavy— • possible f-word • The use of the word Nigger, cracker or any vocabulary used to refer to African Americans or others in a derogatory fashion. • s-word (1) • “ugly bastard”
  • Nudity: Minor— • When Harriet takes a bath, her bare back is revealed, and her scars are visible. • She is bare shouldered after jumping into a lake when she is forced to chose between freedom or returning to Gideon.
  • Occult: Minor
  • Sex: • Kiss with woman wrapping her legs around man’s waist • Reference to a man sleeping in brothels • Man offered opportunity to sexually abuse Harriet

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.


Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Positive
Positive—I disagree with the reviewer’s rating and label of “offensive.” Of course, Harriet Tubman’s story has some offensive nature regarding certain details, due to the offensive nature of slavery and its consequences. She is a hero, with a strong faith in God and people like that and movies like this should be celebrated. It may not be for young children, but is inspirational for all others.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 4
Alan, age 56 (USA)
Positive—I disagree with the main reviewer as well. I thoroughly enjoyed this movie, thought it was extremely well made and honestly am shocked to find out it was a secular movie. It was very powerful, and I think represented the life of Harriet Tubman very well. The whole movie was based on the fact that the only way she made it was with God’s help, and she took God’s help over man’s help so many times throughout. The ending made me cry, and I walked out of the theater feeling inspired to let God do something more with my life. It may be too intense for small kids, but it’s definitely something older kids should see. I completely recommend that you go see this movie!
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 5
Emily, age 24 (USA)

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