I have really been looking forward to this film. Harriet Tubman is one of the most bad ass people in American history, and as I have gotten older, I have realized how fully robbed of her story I was in schools.
The first time I got wind that I knew nothing about Harriet Tubman was my second year as an Outdoor Afro leader. Our annual leader training was happening near Harper’s Ferry National Park, and one of our pre-training events included hiking on a section of the Underground Railroad. If you haven’t been to that park, I highly recommend you go. Harper’s Ferry (history-wise) is the blackest experience in the National Park Service. I might be inaccurate on that one, but of the national parks I’ve been to, it’s true. Anyway while there, I learned a lot more about Black resistance and realized it was much bigger than rebellions. It was widespread and was the reason so many restrictive laws were passed.
My next realization that I knew nothing about Tubman was while watching the show Underground. And seriously, NETFLIX OR HULU, I AM LOOKING AT YOU. BRING THAT SHOW BACK.
So with said, I was excited as hell for this movie. The very beginning had me worried. The acting of her enslaver, his wife, and his son was trash. They had the n-word flying everywhere. I was like, Great. This is one of those movies full of white devils. And I’m not saying that isn’t historically accurate. I just mean, you know, we know why she would want to runaway, and I tire of trauma porn. I don’t know if that makes sense. I realized fairly quickly that I’m tired of watching these stories on screen.
Despite that, I loved it. I loved it for a few reasons. When she wants to go see her husband, we learn about efforts to quash runaways. In fact, they include historical facts like that throughout that WE NEVER LEARNED PROPERLY. I mean it’s 2019, and folks are out here still talking about the Civil War was for “states’ rights” while fully ignoring things like the Fugitive Slave Act which gave the federal government overreach into “states’ rights” issue. And these enslaving states wanted that “big government” solution . Along with a whole bunch of other reasons (insert other facts here like slavery being mentioned in the cessation declaration or enslaved people being on the money in Confederacy), I liked that this movie helped to show that The Lost Cause and “states’ rights” narratives are bullshit.
I learned some stuff, too. I didn’t know that she had hired a lawyer. Of course, there was a lot that was inaccurate historically. The relationship with the son of her enslaver was exaggerated and Hollywooded. I don’t know how I felt about the enslaved man who was chasing her with him either. Seemed unnecessary to make it a Black man. I don’t know.
Also, the scene at the end about her role in the Civil War ignores much of what her role really was till they realized how badass she was. Honestly, they should really make Harriet 2 about just her role in the Civil War
Some things felt familiar. I knew her husband had remarried, but I was like holy-dating-in-2019! But ultimately, that is how it had to be so she could get to saving lives. And at the station when she first went back South, her papers being checked at the train station felt very much like so many of black and brown folks in 2019 having to prove we belong in spaces in our own country.
In the end, the movie says her last words were “My people are free.” Methinks we need to keep fighting our fights to make her words true.
Because right now, we are only free-ish.