29 Days Of Black History – Day 4: Harriet

a/k/a Freedom Fire


Release Date:   11/1/19
Genre:  Drama/Historical/Biography
Rating:  PG-13
Director:  Kasi Lemmons
Studio(s):  Martin Chase Productions, New Balloon, Perfect World Pictures,
Stay Gold Features, Focus Features
Running Time:   125 mins.

Cast:  Cynthia Erivo (Araminta ‘Minty’ Ross/Harriet Tubman), Leslie Odom, Jr. (William Still), Joe Alwyn (Gideon Brodess), Janelle Monáe (Marie Buchanon), Jennifer Nettles (Eliza Brodess), Vanessa Bell Calloway (Rit Ross), Clarke Peters (Ben Ross), Henry Hunter Hall (Walter), Zackary Momoh (John Tubman), Mitchell Hoog (Vince), Deborah Ayorinde (Rachel Ross), Vondie Curtis-Hall (Reverend Samuel Green), Omar Dorsey (Bigger Long), Tory Kittles (Frederick Douglass), Tim Guinee (Thomas Garrett), Joseph Lee Anderson (Robert Ross), Brian K. Landis (the Marshall), Antonio J. Bell (Henry Ross), Willie Raysor (Abraham), William L. Thomas (U.S. Senator Seward), Nick Basta (Fox).

Details:  Based on the story of iconic freedom fighter Harriet Tubman, her escape from slavery and subsequent missions to free dozens of slaves through the Underground Railroad in the face of growing pre-Civil War adversity.

Story:   In 1840s Maryland, a slave state, Araminta ‘Minty’ Ross is newly married to a freedman, John Tubman, but still a slave on the Brodess farm, along with her mother and sister.  Her father, also a freedman, approaches Mr. Brodess about her freedom, as Brodess’s great-grandfather had agreed to free Minty’s mother, Harriet ‘Rit’ Ross, and her family when she turned forty-five years old.  Even though Rit is now fifty-seven, Mr. Brodess insists they will always be slaves, and tears up the letter from a lawyer John had hired.  Brodess’s adult son Gideon mocks Minty for praying for God to take Mr. Brodess, saying God does not care about the prayers of slaves. Mr. Brodess dies shortly afterward, alarming Gideon, who decides to sell Minty as punishment. Minty, who suffers “spells” since being struck in the head as a girl, has a vision of herself escaping to freedom, and decides to run.

Minty tells John to stay behind, as he would lose his own freedom if caught escaping with her, but make plans to meet up with him later. Gideon pursues her to a bridge over a river, where he promises not to sell her.  She jumps anyway, saying she will live free or die. Minty is presumed drowned but successfully makes it to Philadelphia via the Underground Railroad, assisted by Quakers and other abolitionists. In Philadelphia, she meets Marie Buchanon, the fashionable daughter of a freed slave who was born free and is now a boarding-house proprietor.  She also meets William Still, an abolitionist and writer. William encourages her to take a new name, and she calls herself Harriet after her mother.

After a few months in Philadelphia and against the advice of Marie and William, Harriet decides to go back for John. 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 decides to free her family, but her sister refuses to leave her two children. Harriet continues to return, guiding dozens of slaves to freedom as a conductor on the Underground Railroad.  Myths grow about the person responsible who becomes known as ‘Moses’.  When the Fugitive Slave Act is passed, the escaped slaves are in jeopardy of being brought back. Gideon is livid when he discovers that Harriet is Moses, especially as his fellow slave owners demand he compensate them for Harriet freeing their slaves. Gideon pursues her to Philadelphia along with the slave hunter Bigger Long, who kills Marie. Harriet flees to Canada.

In Canada, Harriet insists that the Underground Railroad continue. She continues to help runaway slaves flee all the way to Canada, though her sister dies before she can save her. 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 the final confrontation, Bigger Long winds is shot to death, but Harriet lets Gideon live, telling him of her vision that Gideon’s cause is defeated by the American Civil War.

Epilogue – Harriet 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.  Source(s):  Variety; WBUR.org; Oprahmagazine.com; Victoriaadvocate.com; USAtoday; NY Times; Wikipedia.


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