Review of the Movie "Harriet"

Although I consider myself a student of history, I'd say I'm probably not a super great student of Black history. When I think about what I actually knew about Harriet Tubman before I went to see the bio-pic released this year, it could be summed up by "she escaped slavery, then went back to save a bunch of other people, and lived a long life." That was kinda it. I think that's likely true of many people. So I was definitely glad to learn more about her life, even though a lot of things in this movie are clearly fictionalized.

What I learned about Harriet Tubman from this movie was that she was an important part of the underground railroad (in my not-informed head, her work and that work were not well connected,) she led a raid during the civil war which liberated 700 slaves, and she had frequent visions, brought on by a head injury. What she was able to do was really nothing short of miraculous.

Overall, I think this movie was well done. There was no white savior narrative, nor were all of the white characters evil. In addition, it brought in the complexity of Black characters who were collaborators of slave-holders - free black people who hunted slaves for a living, and those who were willing to give up information to secure their own safety. There was also a portrayal of a Native American slave hunter, although that was a very minor role, and he didn't speak. I think they did a decent job at outlining the complexity of relationships in that time period.

I do think that they should have focused a lot more on those complexities, and a lot less on the "suspenseful" escapes. I mean, they aren't suspenseful! We already know how it turns out - so spending so much time on them actually got boring. What's the point in spending so much screen real estate on Harriet running away from dogs and slave masters, when we already know she will successfully escape? This should not have been an action movie (which is how it was directed) but more of a movie focused on the relationships and complexities.

I'd definitely recommend seeing it, even with its faults. And Janelle Monae's character is an interesting one - I wish she had been given more screen time.