HARRIET, portrait of black girl magic
We’ve long seen age old images of Harriet Tubman and heard the stories of how she braved the tortures of American slavery to free enslaved men, women and children. Beyond that, there is so much more to discover about this iconic woman whose feats of heroism, define “Shero” status.
On November 1, Harriet Tubman’s story–a slave-busting superhero–opens in theaters nationwide from Focus Features, rated PG-13.
Born Araminta “Menty” Ross, based on the thrilling and inspirational life of an iconic American freedom fighter, HARRIET tells the extraordinary tale of Harriet Tubman’s escape from slavery and transformation into one of America’s greatest heroes. Her courage, ingenuity, and tenacity freed hundreds of slaves and changed the course of history.
HARRIET is directed by Kasi Lemmons (Eve’s Bayou, Talk to Me, Black Nativity). Produced by Debra Martin Chase (Sparkle, Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants, The Princess Diaries), Daniela Taplin Lundberg (The Kids Are All Right, Beasts of No Nation, Honey Boy) and Gregory Allen Howard (Remember the Titans, Ali, Glory Road); starring Cynthia Erivo (Widows, Broadway’s The Color Purple) in the title role with Leslie Odom, Jr (Broadway’s Hamilton), Janelle Monae (Hidden Figures), Jennifer Nettles (Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colors), Vanessa Bell Calloway (Coming to America), Vondie Curtis Hall (Eve’s Bayou) and Clarke Peters (Three Billboards, Marley & Me, Freedomland).
Never more proud to be a strong black woman—HARRIET underscores our rich legacy and celebrates our resilience. This is a film you will want to see, over and over. It celebrates our strength, holds a mirror up to our beauty, and honors our magnificent fortitude, providence, an unrelenting belief, faith and trust.
I sat with Lemmons and Lundberg in San Francisco to discuss this must see film–
Sandra Varner (Talk2SV): The journey to making this film came with challenges, what were some of the encumbrances?
Lundberg: Perhaps the biggest impediment was convincing film studios that the story of Harriet Tubman could be a commercially viable film. Otherwise, everyone loved the story. We really had to take the leap of faith and push it forward–then people started to follow.
Recent films have paved the way, Hidden Figures made $200 million that helped us. The success of Wonder Woman, a female superhero, helped. The tremendous success of Black Panther and others; I think Hollywood is catching up to the fact that females can be heroines of films and they can be commercially viable if you put the resources into them, in the right way.
Talk2SV: Let’s talk about Harriet, the woman, the heroine. We see the arc of her life from young adult to maturity, with attributes that inform and immerse us into her journey: very well done, thank you ladies.
Heretofore, this story had been under told and underrepresented, until now. You have presented a multidimensional heroine in equal parts–vulnerable, fearful and fearless, in love, heartbroken, courageous, resilient and deeply steeped in faith–a rarity in portrayals of women of color on film, particularly African American women.
What was most daunting about pulling it all together?
Lemmons: Oh, my God, the whole thing was daunting. I really wanted the scope of it to be as big as it possibly could. We had bigger scripts. I mean, we had scripts that were enormous because her life was so enormous. We had to hone the script into a form that was manageable and that we could actually make for the budget we had. So the hardest thing to me was to make the film as big as it could be within the confines and realities we had, to make the film appropriate, in many ways. We had to fit a big story into a single film.
Lundberg: At one point we were going to make this film independently. Kasi (Lemmons) said to me, “If I deliver a script…you have to promise that we’re making this within six months.” Because she had carved out all this time from her life and career (she’s a professor) to be available to make the film. She trusted us and had gone all in on the project. So we made this commitment to her and to Cynthia (Erivo). We were going to make this film independently without a distributor which, for a period film is a really, is a risky endeavor. And, at the 11th hour, Kasi and I went out to Los Angeles to do the pitch-and-negotiations dance to the [film] studios, submitted the script, and talked about what we’re going to do. That’s when Focus Features came on board and we were shooting the film three months later. But, we had committed to shoot the film in any event.
Talk2SV: There is another character of sorts featured prominently in this film—that character is freedom. Freedom from slavery was an equal costar in the telling of this story; the value of freedom and what we are willing to risk having and maintaining it. In this current cultural climate, freedom can be taken for granted by those who live freely, in light of those that are still in pursuit of it.
Lemmons: Yep. That’s what it was about to us. It was a freedom story in exactly the way you articulate it. What one woman was willing to do to get it and to have other’s experience it.
Talk2SV: You refer to Harriet Tubman as a superhero rather than iconic…
Lemmons: We really looked at this story as a hero’s journey. I mean, there’s just no question about it. We’re so used to seeing this image of the old woman in a chair that it’s abstracted from what she was like when she was doing this incredible work. We wanted to bring that woman to the screen; we wanted audiences to see this young woman who had to physically go through this adventure that’s inherent in the story and the jeopardy that’s inherent in what she actually did. That’s all we wanted. When we pitched it to studios, we would describe it as Wonder Woman meets 12 Years a Slave meets Django Unchained–there is no other way to describe it.
More available at Talk2SV. Link to article http://talk2sv.com/movies/harriet-portrait-black-girl-magic/.