Follow the North Star: A Review of Harriet

Abby Hendrickson, Staff Writer

By Abby Hendrickson 


A new historical fiction masterpiece hit the screens three weeks ago, focusing on the incredible life of courageous abolitionist Harriet Tubman. 

The film starts by revealing the “sleeping spells” Harriet suffered from most of her life (the result of a weight being thrown at her and splitting her forehead when she was 13 years old) by showing her waking up alone in a field. 

Harriet, played by actress Cynthia Erivo, is put up for sale once her master (Edward Brotus) passes away. Deciding to take the risk of fleeing to freedom alone, Harriet makes it to Philadelphia meeting a prominent abolitionist played by Leslie Odom Jr.

Unable to enjoy her freedom alone, Harriet returns to Maryland to guide her family to the North less than a year after her departure. Throughout the course of the movie, the utter incredibility of her actions grow more and more obvious as she makes multiple trips from the Deep South, guiding slaves of all ages along the Underground Railroad to freedom.

While the plotline remains a pretty spot-on recreation that was mostly historically accurate, there were definitely elements of cinematic exaggeration. For example, the director characterized Harriet’s spells as moments where God spoke to her, flashing visions of the near future to her. As a result, the depiction of her journey is much more religiously connected than expected. 

Director Kasi Lemmons did an excellent job depicting the biography of Harriet, whose extent of bravery is not understood by nearly enough people. Not only was she a woman, but she was an African American woman during a time where both minorities were heavily oppressed. 

The movie concludes with a scene of Harriet leading an invasion in the Civil War, freeing about 1,000 slaves in the process. To this day she is still one of the only women in all of U.S. History to be charged with leading an expedition as she did. The last scene was a portrait of the actual Harriet Tubman, proudly sitting and staring down the camera.

There are only a few who are able to command such power in a relaxed state depicted in that portrait, and her extraordinary self is one of those few.