Political Film Society #600


The U.S. $20 bill will feature a picture of Harriet Tubman, the famous conductor of the Underground Railroad. The film Harriet, directed by Kasi Lemmons, does a service by providing many previously unknown aspects of her life from age 27 until her death at age 91.

The film begins in 1849 on a slave plantation in Dorchester County, Maryland, where a promise had once been made about freeing some slaves, including a newborn. When the plantation owner refuses, Harriet (played by Cynthia Erivo) is so incensed that she decides to walk for her own freedom; 100 miles later, she reaches the Antislavery Society headquarters in Philadelphia and is renamed from Araminta Ross to Harriet Tubman to protect her from later discovery. Loyal to her family, she asks for help from the Society. When that help is refused, she indignantly returns to the plantation to lead nine slaves up north. She is then awarded the honor of being among the first conductors of the Underground Railroad, a network involving many other routes as far west as Illinois and Michigan. When Congress passes the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, slaveowners are permitted to hunt escaped slaves in the northern states, so Harriet helps as the route increases to Canada (600 miles from Dorchester County!).

But the Civil War proclamation to free slaves is not the end of her story. In 1863, she is a spy for the Union Army. She leads an army of African Americans to free about 700 slaves in Beaufort, South Carolina, the first American woman ever to lead an army. In her later years, titles at the end indicate, she is involved in the Women’s Suffrage movement and other causes.

Harriet clearly demonstrates why she is the equal of others whose pictures are on other denominations of currency. Not mentioned is the fact that the new bill was to be issued in 2020 but has been delayed by the Trump administration until 2028. The lingering question is why she had so much energy; the film suggests that the scars from whipping may have brought a message from God that gave her extraordinary determination. The Political Film Society has nominated Harriet as best film exposé as well as best film on human rights of 2019.  MH