This past weekend, the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (ODEI) and the history department co-sponsored a screening of Harriet, a biopic which tells the life story of Harriet Tubman, at the Gund Gallery Community Foundation Theater.
The film, directed by Kasi Lemmons, premiered last September at the Toronto International Film Festival and earned Cynthia Erivo both Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations for her depiction of Tubman. The film also incorporated spirituals sung by the actress herself.
The film begins in 1840s Maryland with Araminta “Minty Ross,” played by Erivo, newly married to a freedman named John Tubman. Minty is a slave on the Brodess farm along with her mother and sister.
Religion plays a big part in Minty’s life from the start. Minty prays for God to take her owner Mr. Brodess’ life. Brodess’ son Gideon ridicules Minty for praying, telling her that God doesn’t listen to slaves’ prayers. A few days later, Mr. Brodess die; Gideon, shocked by his father’s death, plans to sell Minty as punishment.
Throughout the movie, Minty has “spells,” which are a mix of flashbacks and visions into the future given to her by God.
After word of Mr. Brodess’ death, and Gideon’s plan, Minty has a “spell” about escaping that motivates her to escape slavery.
Minty’s courage and perseverance strike the audience throughout the film. When she first escapes, Gideon finds her and promises not to sell her, but Minty jumps off a bridge, risking her life to escape. Minty is assumed by everyone to have drowned, but, with the help of Quakers and other abolitionists on the Underground Railroad, she makes it alive to Philadelphia.
She meets William Still, an abolitionist who helps bring slaves in the South to freedom in the North. Still writes down details about Minty’s name, date of birth and slaveowners. Minty chooses the free name Harriet after her mother, and Tubman after her husband.
After residing with the fashionable Marie Buchanon, who was born free to a slave mother, Tubman decides to return south to rescue her family. She is advised not to go back by many figures in her life, but she decides to do so anyway, resolving to bring as many slaves as possible to their freedom.
Sally Smith ’23 felt the movie taught her about “the inner workings of abolitionist societies within Philadelphia.” When the Fugitive Slave Act passed, escaped slaves could be forcibly brought back to the south from the North. Despite this law, Tubman guided dozens of groups, relying on her relationship with God to help lead the way.
Tubman flees to Canada, for the sake of it being safer further up north, and continues to help rescue slaves. She personally freed more than 70 slaves on the Underground Railroad, and then led 150 black soldiers during the Civil War, who emancipated over 750 more slaves.
“I think it was so important [to attend] this screening because films like this bring to life the facts and blurbs you get in textbooks and illustrate the real stories and lives that comprise history,” Lucy Gibbs ’23 said.