Harriet movie historical accuracy: What’s fact and what’s fiction in the Harriet Tubman biopic.

What caused Harriet Tubman’s “spells”? Were there really black slave-catchers? We break down the new biopic.

Diptych of Cynthia Erivo as Harriet Tubman, in a still from the movie, and Harriet Tubman in a historical photo.
Cynthia Erivo and Harriet Tubman.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Focus Features and Horatio Seymour Squyer/Wikipedia.

“The fact that Harriet is the first feature-length film to tell the story of one of the most famous women in American history may sound improbable, but it’s no less improbable than many of the facts of her life. The new biopic is mostly true to what we know of the real Harriet Tubman, though writer-director Kasi Lemmons (Eve’s Bayou) and co-writer Gregory Allen Howard (Remember the TitansAli) take some considerable liberties with both the timeline of events and the creation of several characters. We consulted biographies, articles, primary sources, and a few contemporary historians so we could break down what’s historical record and what’s artistic license.

Tubman’s Early Life as Araminta “Minty” Ross

Just as in the movie, Tubman (played here by Cynthia Erivo) grew up on a farm in Dorchester County, Maryland, where she was born Araminta “Minty” Ross. Though the movie may leave the impression that she only took on the name Harriet Tubman when she reached freedom, she seems to have taken it when she was married, taking Harriet from her mother, Harriet Ross, and Tubman from her husband, a free black man named John Tubman. Despite that, her owners still called her by the name they gave her, as evidenced by the Oct. 3, 1849, advertisement for the return of “Minty” taken out by Tubman’s mistress Eliza Brodess when she eventually escaped.”

Source: Harriet movie historical accuracy: What’s fact and what’s fiction in the Harriet Tubman biopic.

Harriet | by Richard Brody – The New Yorker

We saw Harriet the other night, and we loved it. It was criticized on Rotten Tomatoes for not being very violent, and being somewhat a traditional adventure story. That’s our kind of film. The score at Rotten Tomatoes was a 74, but the audience reviews were at 97!  Metacritic is similar, with a score of 66, but the New Yorker was assigned a 90.

Here is the New Yorker review:

 

“The intensity and the lyrical fervor of Kasi Lemmons’s direction lend this historical drama, about Harriet Tubman’s escape from slavery and her work with the Underground Railroad, the exalted energy of secular scripture. The action begins in Maryland, in 1849, where the enslaved Araminta Ross (Cynthia Erivo) is granted permission to marry the freeman John Tubman (Zackary Momoh). When she is denied the freedom that she’d been promised, she risks her life to flee to Philadelphia. Taking her mother’s name, Harriet, she returns covertly—and armed—to guide her relatives to freedom, and is pursued by her former master and his posse. Then, after the Fugitive Slave Act is passed, in 1850, Northern cities no longer insure safety. The movie, written by Lemmons and Gregory Allen Howard, presents a gripping and wide-ranging view of her activity—including her work with a daring black clergyman (Vondie Curtis-Hall) and the black abolitionist William Still (Leslie Odom, Jr.), who devotedly records the stories of the formerly enslaved—and her inner life, featuring depictions of the virtually prophetic visions that guide her in her mission.— Richard Brody”

Source: Harriet | The New Yorker