Last night Jan & I saw Harriet.
It is a bio pic and has the problems such films usually do. That said, the bottom line is that it is a wonderful movie. Beautifully made, if occasionally by the numbers, but frankly, at that bottom line, inspiring.
So, I was a little surprised to learn it has become controversial.
Kellie Caeter-Jackson at The Washington Post tells us “the film captures the historical reality of how women challenged slavery by every means necessary, a story that popular culture has previously missed.” Flat out true.
I wasn’t enthusiastic with the emphasis on Harriet Tubman’s visions, but accepted it as part of a celebration of someone past remarkable. Others seem to focus in on this as a significant criticism. In my view overstating that as a problem. Others appear to focus on the fact one of the villains is black. An issue sure. And, I can’t see why they chose to have this character, whom I believe is totally a-historical. There are other problems along the way. But. Really. All small potatoes.
It feels like there are people who would rather you do not see this movie. This would be too bad.
Here’s a sort of bottom line. At Rotten Tomatoes aggregating of reviews we see that 72% of professionals liked the movie. Which, again, feels about right for a bio pic.
However, fully 97% of ordinary viewers liked the movie. Let me repeat. Ninety-seven percent of those who have seen this film liked it.
The film is very much carried by its star, Cynthia Ervio. As Peter Travers tells us in the Rolling Stone review, “It’s a big role, written with dimensions of sainthood that might defeat a lesser actor. But Erivo is up to every challenge, never losing Harriet’s compassionate humanity even as the film moves to the Civil War and pumps up the action at the expense of characterization. Tubman’s place in anti-slavery annals looms so large that her life virtually spills off the screen, as if no single movie could hold her. But there’s Erivo, hardly more than five feet tall like the dynamo she’s playing, giving us a woman in full on her march into history.”
One review said this was a movie for white people. Perhaps. But, Jan and I were fortunate to watch the movie in a theater filled mostly with African American families. And. They loved, loved the movie.
As we left we saw families lining up to take pictures of their children standing in front of the promotional posters for the film. Me, I felt a frisson of emotion. This was a good movie for me, showing one of our American heroes as she took the work of justice up and gave her life to it. For African Americans it was something more. It showed people standing up for their rights, living free or facing death as the only alternative.
This is a movie worth watching. It is a film for all of us.