Harriet (film)

Harriet is a 2019 American biographical film directed by Kasi Lemmons, who also wrote the screenplay with Gregory Allen Howard. It stars Cynthia Erivo as abolitionist Harriet Tubman, with Leslie Odom Jr., Joe Alwyn, and Janelle Monáe in supporting roles. A biography about Harriet Tubman had been in the works for years, with several actresses, including Viola Davis, rumored to star. Erivo was cast in February 2017, and much of the cast and crew joined the following year. Filming took place in Virginia from October to December 2018.

Theatrical release poster
Directed byKasi Lemmons
Produced by
Screenplay by
  • Gregory Allen Howard
  • Kasi Lemmons
Story byGregory Allen Howard
Music byTerence Blanchard
CinematographyJohn Toll
Edited byWyatt Smith
Distributed byFocus Features
Release date
  • September 10, 2019 (2019-09-10) (TIFF)
  • November 1, 2019 (2019-11-01) (United States)
Running time
125 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$17 million[2]
Box office$43.3 million[3][4]

Harriet had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 10, 2019, and was theatrically released in the United States on November 1, 2019, by Focus Features. It received generally favorable reviews from critics, who praised Erivo's performance and found the film sincere but formulaic, and was a moderate commercial success, grossing $43 million worldwide against its production budget of $17 million. The film received several accolades and nominations, particularly for Erivo's performance, which garnered her nominations at the Academy Awards, Golden Globes, and the Screen Actors Guild. For the song "Stand Up," Erivo and Joshuah Brian Campbell received Oscar, Grammy and Golden Globe nominations.


The film opens in 1840s Maryland, a slave state, Araminta "Minty" Ross is newly married to a freedman, John Tubman. Minty is still a slave herself on the Brodess farm, along with her mother and sister, while two other sisters had been sold to another slave owner in the South. Reverend Green finishes his sermon advising obedience to follow the Lord's will.

Her father, also a freedman, approaches Mr. Brodess with evidence that Brodess' ancestor had agreed to free Minty's mother, Harriet "Rit" Ross, when she was 45, and that she and her children legally should have been free since Rit turned 45 twelve years before. Mr. Brodess insists they will always be slaves, and tears up the letter from the lawyer who had analyzed the will. In despair, Minty prays for God to take away Mr. Brodess, whom she decries as evil. Brodess's adult son Gideon finds Minty praying, and castigates her, saying God does not care about the prayers of slaves.

Mr. Brodess dies shortly afterward, and Gideon offers Minty for sale. Minty, who suffers "spells" since being struck in the head as a girl, has a vision of herself escaping to freedom. She decrees these scenes as visions from God and decides to run right before she's to be taken to auction.

John offers to run with Minty, but she leaves him behind, fearing that he would lose his own freedom if caught escaping with her. She meets with her father on the way out, who tells her to go to Rev. Green for help with her journey. She worries, since he always says to be obedient to their masters, but goes anyway due to her father's encouragement. When she meets with the Reverend he tells her what she must do to make it to freedom.

She travels all night but is pursued by dogs and four men on horseback. One of them is Gideon who manages to track her down. Gideon pursues her to a bridge over a river, where he appeals to her faith and even promises not to sell her. She jumps anyway, saying she will live free or die.

Minty is presumed drowned but successfully makes it to the blacksmith Rev. Green advised her to go to. He takes her 25 miles from the Philadelphia border and she walks the rest of the way. She has now arrived in Philadelphia via the Underground Railroad, assisted by Quakers and other abolitionists.

In Philadelphia, she meets William Still, an abolitionist and writer. William encourages her to take a new free name, and she calls herself Harriet after her mother and Tubman to keep her husband's name. After that, she tells William about her journey and childhood. He commends her for making it 100 miles on her own as this is rather unheard of. After she tells him God gives her visions of the future to prepare and advise her, he writes, "possible brain damage." He does not tell her what he has written.

She also meets Marie Buchanon, the fashionable daughter of a freed slave who was born free and is now a boarding-house proprietor. She stays with her for the time-being. Marie also tells Harriet she can get word to her family that she made it to freedom.

After a year in Philadelphia, Harriet begs William to get his people to help bring her family over. He tells her getting slaves free has gotten much harder with slave owners, hunters, cities, and congress working together. William also tells her she needs to know how to read and demands she stays as she could reveal their organization. She then tells Marie who gives her a dress and gun for her trip. She successfully makes it to John's homestead only to find he has remarried, believing she was dead, and is expecting a baby with his new wife.

Devastated, Harriet talks to the Lord who shows her visions of her sisters then her escaping. He also shows future visions of her leading others to freedom right before her father meets with her. He tells her of others who wish to escape, and she decides to free the rest of her family. Except for her parents and sister who refuses to leave her two children.

The next day Gideon and the rest find out about their 5 slaves who ran off. He goes after Harriet's sister who had just given birth threatening her kids. She reveals to Gideon that Harriet is still alive and came back for those who ran. Gideon makes it his mission to find the slaves and Harriet at all cost. They nearly capture them when God sends her more visions and advises Harriet on a safe path for them to take.

Harriet continues to return, guiding dozens of slaves to freedom as a conductor on the Underground Railroad, and a myth begins to grow about the person responsible, who is dubbed Moses. She notably loses nobody on her travels and each person tells their story to William Still. However, when the Fugitive Slave Act passes, the escaped slaves are in jeopardy of being brought back even from free states. Gideon is livid when he discovers that she is "Moses," especially as his fellow slave owners demand he compensate them for Harriet freeing their own slaves. Gideon pursues her to Philadelphia along with the slave hunter Bigger Long, who kills Marie. Harriet then flees to Canada with help from her friends.

In Canada, Harriet learns her sister died. After meeting William once again, she insists that the Underground Railroad must continue. She continues to help runaway slaves flee all the way to Canada. She even receives a vision from God that her dad needs to be saved right before a previous helped slave reveals he worked for the Underground Railroad. Harriet then takes both her parents North.

Over time, the Brodess farm falls into financial ruin. Mrs. Brodess vows to catch Harriet, using her sister's children as bait, but Harriet's team overwhelms Gideon's siblings and retrieves the last remaining Brodess slaves. In a final confrontation, Gideon shoots Bigger Long to death who was about to kill Harriet. Then Harriet traps him. She lets Gideon live, prophesying that he would die on that battlefield, fighting for the "Lost Cause" and the sin of slavery. Telling him that her people would be free, she takes his horse and rides away.

In the last scenes of the film, Harriet is seen leading an armed expedition of 150 black soldiers into the Combahee River Raid. There they free hundreds of slaves who rush into the river. Afterwards, she arrives back at her home surrounded by her loved ones.

An epilogue at the end of the film describes some of her accomplishments: She personally freed more than 70 slaves on the Underground Railroad and returned as a Union spy during the Civil War, leading 150 black soldiers, who freed over 750 slaves, and helped women's suffrage. She died at the approximate age of 91 and her last words were "I go to prepare a place for you".



In 2015, Viola Davis was set to star in and produce a Harriet Tubman biopic; however, it never came to fruition.[5] Development on a new film began in May 2016.[6] In February 2017, Cynthia Erivo was cast as Tubman, with Seith Mann then set to direct, from a screenplay by Gregory Allen Howard.[7]

Further development on the film was announced in September 2018, with Focus Features set as the new distributor, Kasi Lemmons attached as director, and Leslie Odom Jr., Joe Alwyn, Jennifer Nettles, and Clarke Peters, and others, added to the cast.[8][9] Lemmons received co-writer credit with Allen on the final script, and Allen also had the film's "story by" credit. In October, Janelle Monáe was announced as one of several actors newly added to the film, with filming beginning on October 8, 2018 and lasting through December.[10][11][12]

Harriet was filmed entirely in Virginia, in Richmond, Powhatan, Cumberland, Petersburg, and Mathews. Berkeley Plantation in Charles City County was used for Auburn, New York.[13]


Harriet had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 10.[14] It was theatrically released in the United States on November 1, 2019.[3][4] Its release for Blu-ray and DVD sales took place on January 14, 2020.[4]


Box officeEdit

Harriet grossed $43.1 million in the United States and Canada and $200,000 in other territories for a worldwide total of $43.3 million,[3] plus $4.2 million with home video sales,[4] against a production budget of $17 million.[2][3][4] In North America, the film was released alongside Terminator: Dark Fate, Arctic Dogs and Motherless Brooklyn, and was projected to gross $7–9 million from 2,059 theaters in its opening weekend.[15][16] The film grossed $3.9 million on its first day, including $600,000 from Thursday night previews. It went on to slightly over-perform, debuting to $11.7 million and finishing fourth.[17][2] The film made $7.4 million in its second weekend, finishing sixth, and $4.6 million on its third, finishing tenth.[18][19]

Critical responseEdit

Cynthia Erivo's performance garnered critical acclaim and she received her first Academy Awards, Golden Globe, and SAG nominations for her performance.

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 73% based on 222 reviews, with an average rating of 6.63/10. The website's critics' consensus reads, "Harriet serves as a sincere tribute to a pivotal figure in American history—albeit one undermined by its frustratingly formulaic approach."[20] Metacritic assigned the film a weighted average score of 66 out of 100, based on 41 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews."[21] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film a rare grade of "A+," while those at PostTrak gave it an average 4.5 out of 5 stars and a 69% "definite recommend."[17]

Reviewing for The New York Observer, Rex Reed wrote: "With enough terror to satisfy modern audiences and enough underplayed plot movement to save it from conventional biopic trajectory, Harriet holds interest and invites respect. It is still not the great Civil War epic it could have been, but it’s solid enough to work, and Cynthia Erivo's valiant and committed performance is a wonderful achievement."[22] Richard Roeper gave the film three out of four stars in his review for the Chicago Sun-Times, applauding Erivo's "convincing" and "powerful" acting as well as Lemmons' approach to the story. He wrote: "The crackling historical fiction frames [Tubman's] harrowing rescue missions in fast-paced, quick-cut style."[23]

Some reviewers were less positive. Eric Kohn of IndieWire gave the film a "B–", writing that "Harriet doesn’t attempt to reinvent the biopic, relying instead on a poignant turn by rising screen talent Cynthia Erivo as its soulful centerpiece, against the gorgeous backdrop of John Toll's cinematography and Terence Blanchard's euphoric score. As a sentimental tribute, it hardly transcends expectations—but Erivo's performance injects a palpable urgency to the material that makes up for missed time."[24] In Variety, Owen Gleiberman wrote, "Cynthia Erivo plays the escaped slave Harriet Tubman with a mournful fury, but the rest of Kasi Lemmons' biopic is more dutiful than inspired."[25]


List of Accolades
Award / Film Festival Year Recipient Nomination Result
AARP's Movies for Grownups Awards 2020 Kasi Lemmons Best Screenwriter Nominated
Harriet Best Time Capsule Won
Academy Awards 2020 Cynthia Erivo Best Actress Nominated
"Stand Up" (by Joshuah Brian Campbell and Cynthia Erivo) Best Original Song Nominated
African-American Film Critics Association 2019 Harriet Top 10 Films Won
Black Reel Awards 2020[26] Cynthia Erivo Outstanding Actress Nominated
Janelle Monáe Outstanding Supporting Actress Nominated
Kasi Lemmons Outstanding Director Nominated
John Toll Outstanding Cinematography Nominated
Paul Tazewell Outstanding Costums Design Nominated
Warren Alan Young Outstanding Production Design Nominated
Casting Society of America 2020 Kim Coleman, Erica Arvold, Anne Chapman, Meghan Apostoles Studio or Independent – Drama Nominated
Harriet Award for Woman’s Empowerment 2020 Nominated
Critics' Choice Awards 2020 Cynthia Erivo Best Actress Nominated
"Stand Up" (by Joshuah Brian Campbell and Cynthia Erivo) Best Song Nominated
Golden Globe Awards 2020 Cynthia Erivo Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama Nominated
"Stand Up" (by Joshuah Brian Campbell and Cynthia Erivo) Best Original Song Nominated
Grammy Awards 2021 "Stand Up" (by Joshuah Brian Campbell and Cynthia Erivo) Best Song Written for Visual Media Pending
Heartland Film Festival[27] 2019 Harriet Truly Moving Picture Award Won
Hollywood Film Awards 2019 Cynthia Erivo Breakout Actress Won
Hollywood Music in Media Awards 2019 Terence Blanchard Best Original Score – Feature Film Nominated
"Stand Up" (by Joshuah Brian Campbell and Cynthia Erivo) Best Original Song – Feature Film Won
London Critics Circle Film Awards 2020[28] Cynthia Erivo Best British/Irish Actress Won
Mill Valley Film Festival 2019 Kasi Lemons Mind the Gap Award Won
Movieguide Awards 2020[29] Harriet Best Movie for Mature Audiences Nominated
Epiphany Prize for Inspiring Movies Nominated
Faith & Freedom Award for Movies Won
Cynthia Erivo Grace Prize, Movies Nominated
NAACP Image Awards 2020[30] Harriet Outstanding Motion Picture Nominated
Outstanding Ensemble Cast in a Motion Picture Nominated
Cynthia Erivo Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture Nominated
Outstanding Breakthrough Performance in Motion Picture Nominated
Leslie Odom Jr. Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture Nominated
Janelle Monáe Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture Nominated
Kasi Lemmons Outstanding Directing in a Motion Picture (Film) Nominated
Kasi Lemmons and Gregory Allen Howard Outstanding Writing in a Motion Picture (Film) Nominated
“Harriet (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)” (by Terence Blanchard) Outstanding Soundtrack/Compilation Album Nominated
"Stand Up" (by Joshuah Brian Campbell and Cynthia Erivo) Outstanding Song – Traditional Nominated
Palm Springs International Film Festival 2020[31] Cynthia Erivo Breakthrough Performance Award Won
Santa Barbara International Film Festival 2020 Cynthia Erivo Virtuoso Award Won
Satellite Awards 2020 Cynthia Erivo Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama Nominated
Terence Blanchard Best Original Score Nominated
Screen Actors Guild Awards 2020 Cynthia Erivo Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role Nominated
Women Film Critics Circle 2019 Cynthia Erivo Best Actress Won
Best Female Action Hero Won
Janelle Monáe Invisible Woman Award Won
Kasi Lemmons Best Movie by a Woman Won
Harriet Josephine Baker Award Won
Karen Morley Award Won

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Harriet". Toronto International Film Festival. Retrieved July 23, 2019.
  2. ^ a b c Rubin, Rebecca (November 3, 2019). "Box Office: 'Terminator: Dark Fate' Fizzles With $29 Million Debut". Variety. Retrieved November 3, 2019.
  3. ^ a b c d "Harriet (2019)". Box Office Mojo. IMDb. Retrieved January 19, 2020.
  4. ^ a b c d e "Harriet (2019) - Financial Information". The Numbers. Nash Information Services, LLC. Retrieved January 19, 2020.
  5. ^ Erbland, Kate (September 18, 2018). "Cynthia Erivo Responds to Harriet Tubman Casting Backlash: 'I Cannot Tell How Protective I Am of This Woman'". IndieWire. Retrieved April 11, 2019.
  6. ^ Busch, Anita (May 2, 2016). "Harriet Tubman Feature Film In Works From Macro And New Balloon". Deadline Hollywood.
  7. ^ N'Duka, Amanda (February 8, 2017). "Cynthia Erivo To Star As Harriet Tubman In Upcoming 'Harriet' Biopic". Deadline.
  8. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (September 13, 2018). "Focus Features Moving Forward With Harriet Tubman Pic Starring Cynthia Erivo". Deadline. Retrieved October 11, 2019.
  9. ^ N'Duka, Amanda; Wiseman, Andreas (September 21, 2018). "Focus Features' 'Harriet' Biopic Adds Vanessa Bell Calloway, 'Seven Seconds' Actor Zackary Momoh & More". Deadline. Retrieved October 11, 2019.
  10. ^ Galuppo, Mia (October 2, 2018). "Janelle Monae Joins Cynthia Erivo in Harriet Tubman Biopic". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved October 11, 2019.
  11. ^ Curran, Colleen (October 3, 2018). "'Harriet' feature film biopic to start filming in Petersburg, Virginia next week". The Richmond Times-Dispatch. Retrieved April 11, 2019.
  12. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (October 4, 2018). "'Harriet' Adds 'Queen Sugar's Omar J. Dorsey, 'Colony's Tory Kittles & More". Deadline.
  13. ^ "Following Harriet". Official Tourism Website of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Virginia Tourism Corporation. Retrieved January 15, 2020.
  14. ^ Lang, Brent (July 23, 2019). "Toronto Film Festival: 'Joker,' 'Ford v Ferrari,' 'Hustlers' Among Big Premieres". Variety. Retrieved July 23, 2019.
  15. ^ Rubin, Rebecca (October 29, 2019). "Box Office: 'Terminator: Dark Fate' to Take Down 'Harriet,' 'Motherless Brooklyn'". Variety. Retrieved October 29, 2019.
  16. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony; Tartaglione, Nancy (October 30, 2019). "'Terminator: Dark Fate' Eyes $125M Global Weekend, But Will Franchise "Be Back" Stateside?". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved October 30, 2019.
  17. ^ a b D'Alessandro, Anthony (November 3, 2019). "How 'Terminator: Dark Fate' Conked Out With $27M+ & Why 'The Irishman' Is Not A Missed Strategic Opportunity – Box Office". Deadline. Retrieved November 3, 2019.
  18. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (November 10, 2019). "How 'Doctor Sleep' Went Into A Coma At The B.O. With Dreary $14M+ Opening, Following Surprise $17M+ Attack By 'Midway' – Update". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved November 10, 2019.
  19. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (November 16, 2019). "'Ford v Ferrari' Cruising To $28M+, 'Charlie's Angels' Kicked Out Of Heaven With $10M+ Start". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved November 21, 2019.
  20. ^ "Harriet (2019)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved May 9, 2020.
  21. ^ "Harriet (2019)". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved November 30, 2019.
  22. ^ Reed, Rex (November 1, 2019). "With 'Harriet,' Cynthia Erivo Takes a Giant Leap Towards Stardom". Observer. Retrieved November 6, 2019.
  23. ^ Roeper, Richard (October 30, 2019). "'Harriet': Cynthia Erivo convincingly plays the freedom fighter as both rebellious slave and action hero". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved November 6, 2019.
  24. ^ Eric Kohn (September 11, 2019). "'Ford v Ferrari' Review: Matt Damon and Christian Bale Power Old-School Race Car Drama". IndieWire. Penske Business Media. Retrieved September 11, 2019.
  25. ^ Gleiberman, Owen (September 11, 2019). "Toronto Film Review: 'Harriet'". Variety. Retrieved September 11, 2019.
  26. ^ "Black Reel Awards 2020". Retrieved December 13, 2019.
  27. ^ "Heartland Film Festival 2019". Retrieved December 29, 2019.
  28. ^ "2020 London Critics' Circle Film Awards". Retrieved December 29, 2019.
  29. ^ "2020 Movieguide Awards". Retrieved January 26, 2020.
  30. ^ "NAACP | NOMINEES ANNOUNCED FOR 51st NAACP IMAGE AWARDS". NAACP. January 9, 2020. Retrieved January 9, 2020.
  31. ^ "2020 Palm Springs International Film Festival". Retrieved December 29, 2019.

External linksEdit