By Ron Wynn
There’s been a lot of controversy regarding the casting of British actress Cynthia Erivo as the lead in the upcoming film “Harriet,” the first biopic dedicated to the great freedom fighter. But according to director Kasi Lemmons, a lot more attention should be paid to the production’s zeal for accuracy. The film will incorporate images and present a portrait of Tubman that’s been crafted from comprehensive study of everything not only everything that’s ever been written or shown, but also photographed.
Lemmons is highly critical of some past Tubman biographies, and last week told the New York Times exactly what she thought of a lot of previous volumes and accounts. “Those books defanged her, declawed her, to make her more palatable,” Lemmons said. “Because there’s something quite terrifying about the image of a black woman with a rifle.” Another source utilized was author and historian Catherine Clinton. She wrote a 2004 Tubman biography titled “Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom.” “I encountered people who were not sure if she was even a real person, or if she was a figure from folklore, like Johnny Appleseed,” Clinton added in that same article.
Some of the things that many don’t know about Tubman was that her life spanned nine decades. She was married twice. In addition to her Underground Railroad activities, she was also a spy for the Union army, and the first woman to lead an armed assault during the Civil War. Plus, she had encounters with both John Brown and Frederick Douglass, and later participated in the suffragist movement. She carried a pistol to protect herself and those she was helping escape from slave catchers, and later during the Civil War was seen using a sharpshooter’s rifle.
Though not 100 percent accurate (there’s an error regarding the Fugitive Slave Act, when was passed months after her escape rather than when she was a conductor on the Underground Railroad) and some composite characters were created for film purposes, “Harriet” comes far closer than not to depicting on film an incredible life and series of accomplishments. “Harriet” opens nationally Friday.