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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Shows the importance of integrity, sticking to your convictions, paying attention to signs and visions, not allowing odds or risk to get in the way of making a difference, making sure no one takes away your dignity or self-worth. Some things are worth risking everything for. Undercurrent of hope throughout film: Harriet has strong conviction that enslavement will eventually be a thing of the past.
Positive Role Models
Harriet Tubman is a courageous, devout, confident, dedicated conductor on the Underground Railroad. She fearlessly travels to the South again and again to guide her family, friends, even strangers to freedom. Story also depicts the bravery of those who didn't/couldn't escape.
Both Black and White abolitionists organize the Underground Railroad and train/help Harriet learn best practices. She remains the primary protagonist, helping others by virtue of her own personal strength. In Maryland, free Black people secretly help enslaved people flee North. Clearly negative depictions of enslavers who want to stop their "property" from disappearing.
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Violence & Scariness
White characters use historically accurate weapons (as well as fists/feet) to pursue, beat, even shoot African Americans -- both free and enslaved. Several characters are beaten bloody, and one is killed in a brutal, close-up scene; another is shot. Young enslaved people tie up their enslavers' children to escape. Harriet wields and points her guns to protect herself and others she's leading to freedom. Scars shown on characters' backs. Lots of implied violence/talk of past violence, including stories of beatings and rape. Harriet leads armed soldiers in a Civil War battle. Harriet's enslaver menacingly talks to her very close, tells her she belongs to him. Family separations as the result of enslaved people being sold.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Couples kiss, touch, embrace (briefly). A Black man who hunts down enslaved people tells a White enslaver that he'll use his payment for "White hos."
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Frequent use of "N" word in reference to all Black people. Language also includes one nonsexual use of "f--king" (followed by the "N" word) as well as "Black bitch," "hell," and "damn." Harriet's young enslaver tells her that having a favorite enslaved worker is like having a favorite pig: You eventually have to sell it or eat it.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Adults are briefly shown toasting/drinking.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Harriet is award-winning director Kasi Lemmons' historical drama about Harriet Tubman's evolution from being a young, married enslaved worker in Maryland, to her escape to Philadelphia, to her courage to become the "Moses" of the Underground Railroad. Starring Academy Award nominee Cynthia Erivo as Harriet, the film is intense: Expect frequent use of the "N" word, as well as one use of "f--king" and a few other terms. Violence is often upsetting and almost all aimed at Black characters, both free and enslaved. White enslavers/catchers pursue, beat, and even shoot Black men and women. A few characters die, both from brutal beatings and gun violence; some scenes show the violence close-up. Families are separated when people are sold, and enslaved workers tell stories of the horrible things they've experienced. Viewers will learn how Harriet interpreted her visions and seizures as prescient visions from God and how she ultimately took 19 trips into the South and escorted more than 300 enslaved people to freedom, demonstrating courage and integrity. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
Erivo's intense, nuanced performance is an achievement, but the filmmakers' insistence on sanctifying Tubman makes an already powerful film unnecessarily melodramatic. Really, every role that the Tony Award winner takes on should include singing, because Erivo's voice is a thing of fierce and startling beauty. As it did in the fields where enslaved workers toiled and along the Underground Railroad, music plays an important role in the film. Kudos to director Kasi Lemmons for the sequences of Harriet's coded spirituals and the early moment in which actor-singer Jennifer Nettles (who plays Brodess' widow) sings along to the opening church service. If only Odom Jr. and Janelle Monáe (who's brilliant in a small but pivotal role as Harriet's Philadelphia friend/boarding-house landlord) could have sung on-screen, too.
The cast is wonderful and the movie's story is important, but Harriet suffers in its exploration of Tubman's condition. Lemmons and co-writer Gregory Allen Howard portray her traumatic brain injury as leading to actual divine prescience. The film credits that supposed skill with her ability not only to turn the right way and avoid capture (she never lost anyone she guided to freedom) but also to see the future -- like the time and place of a White man's death while fighting for the Confederacy. Tubman did believe that her visions were inspired by God, but Harriet's focus on her spells as supernatural turns the film into a case for her sainthood and near invincibility rather than concentrating on the ongoing bravery and clarity of purpose she required to continue returning down South. The film is definitely worth seeing, but a little less about the visions and more about the woman would have made it even more powerful.
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Our Editors Recommend
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