By Gilberto Campa
Cynthia Erivo has been a household name in the Theater world since 2011 with her debut in the production of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Since then her notoriety has only continued to expand as she earned her breakout movie role with last year’s underrated Bad Times at The El Royale. Heading into 2019, more attention was going to be headed towards her as Erivo would star in Harriet as Harriet Tubman. Harriet chronicles the unbelievable life of the abolitionist and one of the Conductor’s on the Underground Railroad. The movie starts off by establishing the horrible reality that Harriet and the countless other slaves across the United States are living with during this time, which most people know. Unlike other stories that deal with the topic of slavery Harriet keeps its course and focuses on Tubman and the people closest to her while she fulfills the impossible dream of freedom.
Erivo is the true anchor for this film from beginning to end as she shines in every moment that she appears on film. You physically see the strength and courage it took for Harriet to do what she did in freeing so many slaves. This was great to see because just like other important historical figures you can only really imagine the things that they have done when reading about their lives, but when the right adaptation comes around it brings a new perspective to that person. Erivo plays Harriet in a very vulnerable but also incredibly brave way with her decisions and the attitude that she carries as she chooses liberty over slavery. The story shows Harriet as someone who was guided by God in all of the important decisions that she made in her life, whether it was running over 100 miles for her freedom or going BACK to Maryland to free the rest of her family.
The score which was provided by the ever talented Terence Blanchard brings a very uplifting and almost larger than life feeling in the background to everything that Harriet is doing. Despite all of the positives with the movie it does suffer from something that many biographical movies as of late deal with, which is a very formulaic structure outside of what is going on with Harriet. Every moment in the story that featured Harriet in some sort of danger feels less dangerous because the audience ultimately knows what is going to happen. In addition, there are also the classic slave owner characters that aren’t as deep or layered as other movies that deal with this type of subject matter, which makes the movie drag in certain parts.
Even with a spectacular performance from Cynthia Erivo, the rest of the movie does not keep on par with what she is doing. Yes, the story is about the incredible and miraculous things that Harriet Tubman did after escaping slavery, but that should not be the only focus of the film. I would say see this specifically for Cynthia’s performance, but I cannot really say too much else about it.
The Verdict: 2/5 Stars