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TIFF 2019 Film Review: “Harriet” (2019) ★★★


There are good and bad people. There were back then and they are here now. They come from all over. They can be from any background and even some who we hold close to our heart so dearly. Films like “Harriet” remind us of who we were and who we should not become. More importantly, it captures the existence of power, what it does to people, and how they exercise it.

Most people make their choices and so did Minty (Cynthia Erivo), living under slavery on a Maryland plantation in the 1840s. Half of the residents of Maryland are free but the other half of its black population is still enslaved. When she gets a chance to escape, but without her husband, Johnny, who was born free, she runs to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where the law of anti-slavery exists. Realizing that it can make a difference, the woman takes the name of Harriet and joins the Underground Railroad as its leader, to save all the slaves she can and go to the country where slavery was outlawed just recently – Canada.

There’s a big importance in this film as it captures the honest view of what occurred back then, no matter how accurate it is. It shows both sides being bad, be it the white and freely born black people, where some of them working for a slave owner would be willing to kill one of their own when they should have been protecting them at least, even secretly. As for Harriet, she does all that she can to help one group of people after another, including her family, to ensure they all get what she has – a freedom she fought for that eventually will turn her into a legendary American leader who’s respected till this day.

Directed by Kasi Lemmons, the film is not without flaws. Certain scenes felt staged and unrealistic. But due to the believable performances delivered by the entire cast, especially Cynthia Erivo, all the gaps and faults disappear very quickly. The concept of the film is also important as it touches upon the same painful subject that must be discussed all the time. It talks about the heroes of that generation, their willingness to sacrifice their own life, the same way Harriet was willing to do. However, her intelligence, determination, and persistence set a precedent showing that courage is not something we are born with but it’s earned along the way. Harriet was an outstanding leader and a human being who certainly deserves a film dedicated to her which Kasi Lemmons did by giving her a voice to speak through Cynthia Erivo.

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