By Erin Caine
Born in 1822 in Dorchester County, Maryland, Araminta Ross escaped slavery at 27-years-old only to immediately return to free her family.
By then, she had already changed her name to Harriet Tubman — or “Moses,” as she was called, an abolitionist who would make 13 more perilous missions to rescue an estimated 70 enslaved people. To accomplish this, she made use of a network of safe houses and secure routes known as the Underground Railroad.
While most are more than aware of Tubman and her essential role in the anti-slavery efforts of the 19th century, not as many are aware of the particulars of her early life, or her groundbreaking contributions during the Civil War, or her Suffragist activism.
For example, audiences might not know that, during the Civil War, she was an armed scout and spy for the Union Army, and the first woman to lead an armed expedition in the war. Tubman guided the raid on Combahee Ferry in 1863, which liberated more than 700 South Carolina slaves. In other words, there are holes in the public conscious that need filling.
A Tubman biopic was tentatively announced — or rumored — as early as 2015, though details were still very much up in the air. At the time, Academy Award-winning Viola Davis was thought to be involved, though that was later debunked.
In 2016, Variety reported that “Homeland” director Seith Mann would helm the film, though it seems he’s been replaced in the time since by Kasi Lemmons, known for her award-winning direction on the films “Eve’s Bayou” (1997) and “Talk to Me” (2007).
Wheeler Winston Dixon, in his book “Film Talk: Directors at Work,” described Lemmons’ films as “deeply resonant personal statements,” and added that her work is “an ongoing testament to the creative possibilities of film.” Gregory Allen Howard, who wrote the script for “Remember the Titans,” is on board as screenwriter for the project.
The upcoming film, “Harriet,” is set to start filming in October, and the main cast has already been decided, with British actress Cynthia Erivo set to play Tubman. Erivo is perhaps best known for playing the lead in the Broadway revival of “The Color Purple” in 2015. Recently, Erivo has had to respond to criticism and backlash against her, as many took issue with the fact that Erivo, herself, is not American, but South London-born to Nigerian parents.
On social media, Erivo responded to this criticism, saying that “there is a bigger conversation to be had about heritage and experience, also about who Harriet really was.” She added, “My journey to [Tubman] has been long and detailed and one I have not taken lightly. […] I cannot you tell how protective I am of this woman and her story.”
Where the film intends to take us, and what it plans to show us about Tubman’s life, is still unknown. For now, audiences can only hope that Tubman’s silver screen debut will do her life and legacy justice, and reveal to us facets of her experiences — both her hardships and triumphs — no one has ever seen before.