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Jul 23 2019

Yes No Maybe So: "Harriet"

by Nathaniel R

Good grief but a lot of trailers have been premiering in the past few days.It's getting very difficult to keep up but we'll keep trying.Today we need to discuss the forthcoming biopic of American icon Harriet Tubman,Harriet,which hits movie theaters on November 1st and is clearly hoping for a successful Oscar bound run...


• Harriet Tubman has deserved a biopic forever so the fact that she finally has one is an automatic and triumphant yes.

• Cynthia Erivo immediately proved she had screen presence following her well-deserved Tony win with well-received turns inBad Times at the El RoyaleandWidows.This is a quick leap to headlining a major movie,but we suspect she can more than carry that burden.

• Tubman's story is extraordinary so they shouldn't have plot trouble in making this exciting.Although...(see 'Maybe So' for more details)

• John Toll has won two Oscars for cinematography so we can't wait to see these images on the bigscreen亚博主页

• Kasi Lemmons is underappreciated as a director so we hope she nails this.

• Despite short filmographies both Janelle Monae and Joe Alwyn have already proven themselves to be exciting screen actors so we're expecting strong performances.

• We're always thrilled when department heads who haven't been Oscar nominated get plum gigs like this in which they're more likely to be noticed.The Production Design is by Warren Alan Young (Emmy nominated forFargo) and the Costumes -- which look strong in this short glimpse,note how worn and weathered and stained Harriet's escape clothing is constrasted with the finery in the North --  are by Emmy winner Paul Tazewell (The Wiz Live,Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert).Tazewell is a major talent to watch.He's worked in television until this point but 2019/2020 will be major breakthrough in movies with bothHarrietandWest Side Storyarriving.


• None that we can think of immediately,though that guns to guns standoff looks so much like a traditional action movie beat that we worry a wee bit.Actually there are quite a few shots of guns pointing at the camera which...well,American movies do this all too much but that's a discussion for another time.


• Currently agnostic on Leslie Odom Jr (and yes I did see him inHamiltonbut loved his co-stars so much more and didn't fully understand the Tony win) who has a large role here.Very willing to be impressed,though,because whenever people get lots of work (he's in demand) it's best for one's own enjoyment to be converted into a fan!

• Here's the thing...biopics,however worthy their subjects,have inherent problems unless the script and filmmaking and acting are all carefully calibrated.As a lifelong side-eyer of the biopic genre here at the three most common trouble spots of the genre that we've observed over and over again in our years on earth devouring movies:

  1. Trying to cover too much ground.A two hour movie then becomes like "greatest hits"and none have much impact because there's no satisfying arc but just a lot of this-this-this-this-and-then-this!
  2. Becoming a hagiography where the subject is no longer human but superhuman without flaws and thus,hardly three dimensional.We should not that #2 is not a problem for a lot of moviegoers but it's a problem for us because it's hard to find perfect people inspirational since none of us are perfect.
  3. Reducing complex human psychology down to a backstory of one childhood or teenage incident -- "this one event (or one parental action) made the person this way!"

In the specific case of this movie we're most worried about #1 because how on earth can you reduce a life this eventful and influential into just two hours?You could fill a multi-season TV series (or a movie trilogy) with it so hopefully they've restricted the story to a tight time period within her life.

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Reader Comments (26)


July 23,2019 | Unregistered CommenterTim

It's a "Yes"for me.I'm a bit worried about "how many years will the movie cover?"factor.
And since we're talking about this week's trailers: liked A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD (Hanks looks fantastic!) and got so many good vibes from Taika Waititi's JOJO RABBIT!

July 23,2019 | Unregistered CommenterEd

i think the movie will end up being better than this trailer,which is...not good.looks like a much-more-beautifully-shot TV movie from the 70s?

July 23,2019 | Unregistered CommenterEricB

It seems to be a lot broader than I expected.But isn't that what the Academy is going for ?

July 23,2019 | Unregistered CommenterKl

This looks like Oscar bait and I agree with @EricB

July 23,2019 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

I want this to be good,but I'm not sold.At the very least,I had expected it to be visually sumptuous/interesting and I'm not even getting that.The acting also seems a bit too earnest and maybe even too modern?It's depressing me to not be excited about this,so I'll stop here and hope its just a case of a bad trailer.

Ultimately,I'm still a "Yes"because of the talent involved and the story that's being told.

July 23,2019 | Unregistered Commenterthefilmjunkie

Harriet Tubman is quite unknown in Europe so I'm interested.

I'm also an Odom Jr agnostic.

A lot of people are saying that Erivo is going to win the Oscar for this role but I don't see it that clear considering Viola needed 2 Tonys,1 Emmy,420 critics awards and a category fraud.

July 23,2019 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

@ Peggy Sue- Do you think Davis would have won lead that year?It was certainly a stronger performance than The Help.Plus there was more prestige behind the picture and she already had a lot of momentum.

July 23,2019 | Unregistered CommenterTom G.

I once wrote a screenplay about Harriet Tubman,so I have greater feelings about this trailer than I usually do.First off,I am so glad this story is finally coming to the big screen,but I feel nervous about some of the dialog and some of the liberties taken with the facts.This movie is spanning at least 20 years of her life,but I can't help but wonder how focused it will be.

But I'm a yes.

July 23,2019 | Unregistered CommenterCash

Also not sold for Leslie Odom.I don't get it.

As for the gun bits,well,Harriet Tubman was an armed spy.She didn't just move about in the dark of night through the Underground Railroad.I suspect quite a lot will be given to the armed raid she led on the Combahee River.

I think your #3 will also be included to some extent.She was accidentally struck in the head as a child,which led to seizures (among other things) for the rest of her life.

July 23,2019 | Unregistered CommenterArlo

I'll just wait for the reviews though I do like the few films of Kasi Lemmons that I've seen so far as she is incredibly underrated.

July 23,2019 | Unregistered Commenterthevoid99

Tom G.- No,I don't think so.I think she would have lost to Emma.

July 23,2019 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Paul Tazewell might be a "talent to watch"in the film world,but he's been one of Broadway's top costume designers for years now.His most famous credit,for which he won the Tony,is a little musical called Hamilton...

July 23,2019 | Unregistered CommenterRichard

Odom Jr.impressed me a lot in ONLY at Tribeca,so hopefully he'll be good here.And I'm all for anyone from the cast of the wildly underrated WIDOWS succeeding in great follow-up roles like this.

July 23,2019 | Unregistered CommenterAbe

...and the Best Actress Oscar goes to....

July 23,2019 | Unregistered Commenterforever1267

The trailer def looks like a "greatest hits"approach but I was sold many months ago by the names Cynthia Erivo and Kasi Lemmons.Eve's Bayou has earned Lemmons a near-infinite benefit of the doubt.And Erivo is simply fabulous.

July 23,2019 | Unregistered CommenterW.J.

Will the "rival"Harriet Tubman biopic starring Viola Davis be canceled?

July 23,2019 | Unregistered CommenterMarcos

This looks good as far as biopics go,although it's driving me a little bonkers to have Cynthia Erivo,Leslie Odom Jr.and Janelle Monae in a movie where they don't sing!We already know from 'Widows' that Erivo can be compelling onscreen;Monae the same for her 1-2 of 'Moonlight' and 'Hidden Figures';and Odom seems like he's translating well to film.

July 24,2019 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

I think it looks amazing.And Lemmons regularly brings incredible energy to her projects,so I'm really hopeful.I'd love to see her snag a Director nod.

July 24,2019 | Unregistered Commentereurocheese

odom was quite appealing onscreen insmash

i'm a yes as i'm too lazy to research tubman's story

July 24,2019 | Unregistered Commenterpar

Eve's Bayouhas earned Kasi Lemmons the benefit of the doubt from me,as has Cynthia Erivo.Also,John Toll is one of the greatest d.p.'s of the last 30 years,so I'm looking forward to his lens focusing on this story.

July 24,2019 | Unregistered CommenterEli

I'm a more tentative yes than I thought I'd be because,despite the talent of all involved and the riveting subject matter,the trailer looks a smidge paint by numbers and biopic by and large have become exhausting to me.

Also,count me among the number who remain unmoved by Leslie Odom,Jr.,as I've yet to see him read as anything other than bland in everything I've seen him in.Hopefully,he'll surprise in this film.

July 24,2019 | Unregistered CommenterTroy H.

Cynthia Erivo lost all my respect when she got involved in the Great Comet Broadway drama.She is so arrogant and entitled and will be insufferable if she winds up sweeping the season.Ugh.

With all that said,I hope the movie is good,because like Nathaniel said,it's a great story that should have been told by now.

July 24,2019 | Unregistered CommenterGreg

I will definitely see it,but given her impressive performances in Widows and Bad Times,I expected more from Erivo in this trailer.She seems rather blank.That said,I may be reacting to the trailer (which,as others said,seems to be presenting a paint-by-numbers approach to the story) rather than the performance.

July 24,2019 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

Wait for this to be even more cliche and pedestrian than a film like Green Book,but because of the talent involved and the politics thereof,it will be universally embraced.

July 24,2019 | Unregistered CommenterContraryMary

Gosh,Harriet Tubman was such a great woman and inspiration,sure I will go see this.There should've been a biopic about her years ago.

July 24,2019 | Unregistered CommenterRob

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