“I’m going to be free or die.”



Anthony John Wiles, Jr, News Editor

On November 7, 2019-shortly after the film’s release-members of the Senior School faculty and student body went to the Tull Family Theater in Sewickley to watch the film Harriet on a trip sponsored by the African American Culture Club.

Directed by award-winning African American filmmaker Kasi Lemmons, Harriet is a historical drama/action film which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 10, 2019 and was released November 1. The film stars British actress Cynthia Erivo as Harriet Tubman, along with other talented performers such as Janelle Monae and Leslie Odom, Jr.

Born into slavery in 1822, Harriet Tubman (born Araminta Ross) toiled on a plantation in Maryland before first escaping to freedom in 1849. After a short stint in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where she worked with the American Anti-Slavery Society, she went South again, for the first of several journeys to rescue her brothers and sisters still held in the shackles of slavery. Throughout her life, she fought for the freedom of her people through her work as an abolitionist, as a spy during the American Civil War, and later as a suffragist and civil rights activist before her 1913 death. Today she is remembered as a key figure in the history of the African American struggle for freedom and equality.

Depicting the life and work of this trailblazer, freedom-fighter and heroine, Harriet featured fantastic performances. The film incorporated action-packed escapades that had viewers on the edge of their seats, with heart-wrenching scenes that showed the day-to-day trauma and abuse endured for enslaved persons in the Antebellum United States, along with joyous scenes of reunion and liberation that fully embodied the life and spirit of Harriet Tubman.

One scene that is particularly of interest is when Harriet takes her siblings to visit their father before escaping North. Her father blindfolds himself so he can truthfully answer when slave catchers ask if he has seen his children. One cannot simply comprehend the deep and lasting psychological effects that years in bondage and captivity had on these persons, yet both the creators and actors of this film have done an excellent job at trying to tell their stories, and to at the very least shed light to the trauma of American slavery.

However, the film is less about slavery than it is about Harriet and the African American people’s long-lasting struggle for freedom, and their intense will to not only survive, but thrive.

Throughout the film, viewers see Harriet Tubman engage in dangerous, harrowing and oftentimes life-threatening attempts to secure freedom not only for herself but also her fellow brethren in bondage. This includes jumping over a bridge to evade capture and leading African American troops to liberate the Sea Islands of South Carolina, a risky venture that brought a heavy and well-deserved round of applause from the audience during the Senior School trip.

All in all, Harriet was not only a spectacular and pioneering film in terms of acting and cinematography but also in bringing the life and accomplishments of Harriet Tubman to the Hollywood screen for the first time in history. Not only was it enjoyed by audiences at theaters around the country, but the film also sparked conversations and interest among both students and faculty at the Academy.