TODAY'S PAPER
49° Good Afternoon
49° Good Afternoon
EntertainmentMovies

'Harriet,' the first film about Tubman, premieres in Toronto

Cynthia Erivo plays Harriet Tubman in a scene

Cynthia Erivo plays Harriet Tubman in a scene from "Harriet," which premiered Tuesday at the Toronto International Film Festival. (Glen Wilson/Focus Features via AP) Photo Credit: Glen Wilson / Focus Features via AP

Hard as it may be to believe, "Harriet" is the first feature film about Harriet Tubman.

Kasi Lemmons' movie about the Underground Railroad leader premiered Tuesday night at the Toronto International Film Festival where festival director Cameron Bailey, introducing the film, noted the cinematic injustice of Tubman only now making it to the big screen.

"There are 30 films about Gen. [George] Custer," said Bailey. "This is the first film about Harriet Tubman."

"Harriet," starring 32-year-old English actress Cynthia Erivo, presents a younger, more vibrant picture of Tubman, whose accomplishments have often been entombed in middle-school history books. And the best-known appearance of Tubman, who was in her late 20s when she escaped from slavery and began going back South to help others to freedom, has largely been of her as an older woman.

"There are pictures of her that have been painted from the wrong time period almost," said Erivo, the Tony-winning actress of the Broadway revival of "The Color Purple. "It's important to know this was a really young woman who took a lot of risk in what she was doing."

Tubman, whose original name was Araminta Ross, was born into slavery in 1820 or 1821 on the eastern shore of Maryland. In 1849, she fled to Philadelphia, after which a reward for her recapture was posted. But Tubman returned to the South to lead other slaves to freedom, conducting more than 70 people through the Underground Railroad network of abolitionists.

She worked as a scout, spy and nurse for the Union Army during the Civil War. In 1863, she helped lead 150 black soldiers on a gunboat raid in South Carolina. With Col. James Montgomery, she rescued more than 700 slaves. Tubman also became a noted suffragist before dying in 1913.

"Harriet," which will be released in theaters on Nov. 1, focuses on her escape from Maryland and, a year later, her returning raids.

"When we think of Harriet, we kind of don't see her womanhood. That's partly because in the pictures we have of her, she's an older woman," said Lemmons, the "Eve's Bayou" filmmaker. "There's a picture found fairly recently of Harriet as a young woman, and that was my inspiration. There was this very small, young woman who managed to do incredible things."

Comments

We're revamping our Comments section. Learn more and share your input.

More Entertainment