Things Get Serious. Seriously Good. 

Harriet opens Friday, Nov. 1, at The Flicks

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Courtesy Focus Features

Serious moviegoers have plenty to be thankful for this November. The race to Oscar gold moves into the passing lane in the coming weeks. And some things wonderful—Harriet, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Just Mercy, Little Women and Parasite—this way come, each vying for Hollywood's top prizes and, more importantly, your attention. The first of the fabulous five, Harriet, opens Friday, Nov. 1, in Boise. It's one of those rare films that I felt privileged to see at its world premiere during this year's Toronto International Film Festival. Simply put, I can't wait for you to see it.

"There definitely has been some pressure to play this woman, this icon, because she's an inspiration to so many people," the film's star Cynthia Erivo said on the red carpet, just minutes before Harriet's premiere. Erivo's much-heralded portrayal of Harriet Tubman is indeed a force of nature. "I didn't want to get it wrong. But there's also the excitement of finally being able to bring this woman's story to the screen. Because really and truly, a feature film telling her story should have been done long before now. I'm just lucky that I get to be a part of it."

Based on the thrilling and inspirational life on the iconic freedom fighter, Harriet chronicles Tubman's escape from slavery and transformation to become one of America's greatest heroes. Tubman's integrity and tenacity would ultimately free hundreds of slaves. I'm praying that local school districts have the good sense to arrange field trips and special screenings so that our children can see Harriet, a celebration of a woman who, by sheer force of will and fortitude, defied impossible odds to change the course of countless lives and the fate of a nation.

"This is a bad-ass historical action heroine like we have never seen before on screen," producer Debra Martin Chase told me following her film's premiere. "The thing about Harriet Tubman is that Americans probably know that she was a 'conductor' in the Underground Railroad; but nobody really knows her whole story. She had a whole other life as suffragist. She was an important figure in the women's rights movement and died in her early nineties in New York. It's this incredible life span for a woman who, by all accounts, should have had no hope. She couldn't read, couldn't write. She was a slave. But she changed the course of her own life, the life of her family, and many, many people."

But Harriet's journey to the big screen was a challenge unto itself. It turns out that the Walt Disney Studio first commissioned a biopic of Harriet Tubman back in the 1990s. That's when screenwriter Greg Howard (Ali, Remember the Titans) began crafting a script. But that screenplay gathered dust on the shelf.

"Quite simply, a movie like Harriet wasn't anything like the movies they were making back then," Howard remembered. "So, we waited for the climate to change."

For sure, cultural currents began to shift in Harriet's favor. In 2015, the smash Broadway musical Hamilton proved that American history could have massive pop culture appeal, and films like 2017's Hidden Figures demonstrated an appetite for untold stories celebrating African-American heroines. But which actress would be chosen to portray Harriet Tubman? Well, Broadway would have something to say about that as well: Erivo, who lit up the Great White Way and took home Tony and Grammy awards for her performance in the musical adaptation of The Color Purple seemed heaven-sent for the task. For the record, Erivo has also won an Emmy for a live television performance of The Color Purple; so, yes, an Oscar would grant her the rare and much-coveted EGOT status.

"More importantly, I'm excited for young women and older women and women who are mothers and women who are daughters and wives to come and share in Harriet's strength," said Erivo at her film's premiere.

Lest we forget, Harriet Tubman's legacy has made a few headlines recently. You may recall that, in 2016, then-President Barack Obama sanctioned that Tubman's likeness would grace the $20 bill beginning in 2020, the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote. Alas, a few months after being elected, President Donald Trump kiboshed those plans, meaning we'll have to wait for the Trump era to end before we see the honor of Harriet's likeness on the twenty. Sigh. As a fitting consolation, at least we have this amazing film to celebrate. No doubt, it's a fair bet that I'll see you in the cinema. I can't wait to see it again.

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Rated PG-13 · 125 minutes · 2019
Official Site:
Director: Kasi Lemmons
Producer: Debra Martin Chase, Daniela Taplin Lundberg, Gregory Howard, Shea Kammer, Nnamdi Asomugha, Bill Benenson, Pen Densham, John Watson, Kristina Kendall, Elizabeth Koch and Charles King
Cast: Cynthia Erivo, Janelle Monáe, Leslie Odom Jr., Joe Alwyn, Clarke Peters, Jennifer Nettles, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Henry Hall, Zackary Momoh and Deborah Ayorinde

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