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Harriet: everything you need to know about Cynthia Erivo’s Harriet Tubman biopic

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Hannah-Rose Yee
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Cynthia Erivo in Harriet

As the acclaimed slavery abolitionist Harriet Tubman, film and stage actor Cynthia Erivo is taking on the biggest role of her career.

Born into slavery, Harriet Tubman escaped to become one of America’s most prominent and celebrated abolitionists.

Over the course of her life, she ran 13 rescue missions to save some 70 friends and family, helping them reach safety through the Underground Railroad. After the American Civil War ended, Tubman became a key figure agitating for a woman’s right to vote. She died in 1913 at the age of 91 and has since become one of the most recognisable figures in US history.

Though she has appeared as a character in several movies and operas, a standalone film dedicated solely to Tubman’s life has yet to be made. Until now.

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Called Harriet, the biopic stars British stage and screen actor Cynthia Erivo in the lead role, with Janelle Monae, Hamilton’s Leslie Odom Jr and Joe Alwyn as supporting characters. Here’s everything you need to know about the movie.

Is there a trailer for Harriet

There is. Released in advance of the film’s premiere at the Toronto Film Festival, Harriet’s trailer shows the full span of Tubman’s life, from her early days in slavery to her escape and her eventual alignment with the Underground Railroad.

In the trailer Erivo utters the iconic line: “I’m gonna be free or die.” You can watch the full trailer below.

What is Harriet about?

Harriet follows Tubman’s entire life, which begins with her escape from slavery and her gruelling 100 mile journey to freedom. From there, Tubman tries to adjust to her new life, living with a character played by Monae. But she longs for her family, and so Tubman decides to return to the South to set them free.

The remaining portion of the film will be focussed on Tubman’s continual efforts to save her friends and family from slavery and her relationship with William Still (Odom Jr), her ally in the Underground Railroad. As Erivo says in the trailer: “God don’t mean people to own people. I will give every last drop of blood in my veins until this monster called slavery is dead.” 

Who stars in Harriet?

Erivo plays the iconic abolitionist and her harrowing performance has already been tipped for awards season glory. Speaking to Stylist in 2018, in the middle of filming Harriet, Erivo revealed that she felt a strong connection to the role.

Cynthia Erivo

“Because she was mini like me – she was 5’1” and extremely strong – and she was doing all of these things by herself, her strength and her will really intrigued me,” Erivo said.

The actor also revealed that she wasn’t letting any negative reaction around her casting, as a British woman and not an American woman, impact her performance. “I felt like it wouldn’t be fair to the director, to myself, or to Harriet to not celebrate that [the story] was being told, because it hasn’t been told properly before. So I had to compartmentalise. Right now it’s important for me to be in a space where I can tell the story, get to set six days a week, run in the mud and slip and fall and hurt myself. I really need to enjoy it so I have the will to do it.” 

When will Harriet be released?

The film will have its premiere at the Toronto Film Festival in September. After that, it will be released in cinemas in the US on 1 November and in the UK at a later date. 

Images: Focus Features

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Hannah-Rose Yee

Hannah-Rose Yee is a writer based in London. You can find her on the internet talking about movies, television and Chris Pine.

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