By Ron Wynn
NASHVILLE, TN — Despite controversy over casting and content, Kasi Lemmons’ “Harriet” did much better than expected in its first weekend. The film which stars Cynthia Erivo as freedom fighter Harriet Tubman, grossed $12.2 million and finished in fourth place for the weekend. It was projected to get at minimum $7.5 million and at most $9 million. But it was helped by almost universal audience appreciation, as it got an A+ from Cinema Score and a 98 percent audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Interestingly it started off better than Spike Lee’s “BlackkKlansman, which opened with $10.8 million in grosses from 1,512 locations last August. It’s the 13th best opening ever for any film from Focus studios.
As expected the studio representatives were thrilled with it. “Audiences have been unanimous for their love of this film, which is clear from its A+ CinemaScore and 98 percent audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes,” said Focus distribution president Lisa Bunnell. “With the story of one woman’s strength that literally changed the world we all live in today, it is the feel-great movie people are looking for — becoming an event for friends and families going to see together.” The film’s producer Debra Martin Chase also addressed complaints about content, saying “This is not a slave movie. This is a movie that says we cannot control the circumstances into which we are born, but we can control what we do once we get here.”
In addition, despite pointed criticism on such websites as “The Undefeated” and “Shadow and Act” that the film isn’t hard enough on whites or that it’s not totally factual, Black audiences turned out for “Harriet.” The top five grossing theaters were in Harlem, Atlanta, Manhattan, Brooklyn and Washington, D.C. Zackary Momoh, Michael Marunde and Vanessa Bell Calloway also star in the film, which was co-written by Gregory Allen Howard and Lemmons. African-Americans made up 49 percent of tickets buyers, followed by Caucasians (36 percent), Hispanics (8 percent) and Asian/other (7 percent), according to PostTrak. Nearly 60 percent of the audience was 35 and older, including almost 40 percent over 45.
It will indeed be interesting to see how the film does in succeeding weeks, but so far it has surpassed predictions and expectations.