Janelle Monáe Joins Harriet Tubman Biopic

Janelle Monáe Joins Cynthia Erivo as Harriet Tubman in upcoming biopic Harriet.

“Every great dream begins with a dreamer,” said former slave Harriet Tubman, responsible for releasing the shackles of generations of slaves. Focus Features’ upcoming feature biopic Harriet, which will chronicle the life of the heroic abolitionist, added Janelle Monáe to the cast. The film stars Tony, Emmy and Grammy Award-winner Cynthia Erivo as Harriet Tubman.

Harriet is being directed by Kasi Lemmons (Eve’s Bayou, Talk to Me) off a screenplay she co-wrote with Gregory Allen Howard (Ali, Remember the Titans). This will be Lemmons’ first directorial feature since Black Nativity in 2013.

Harriet follows Tubman, who was born into slavery, escaped in 1849 and helped free dozens of slaves through the Underground Railroad before the pre-Civil War period. Tubman served as a spy for the Union Army during the war. She campaigned for women’s suffrage after the Civil War ended.

Monáe joins Tony and Grammy Award-winner Leslie Odom Jr., Joe Alwyn, multiple Grammy Award-winner Jennifer Nettles, Clarke Peters, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Zackary Momoh, Deborah Ayorinde, and Vondie Curtis-Hall. Details about Monáe’s role are still under wraps.

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“My grandmother was a sharecropper. She picked cotton in Aberdeen, Mississippi,” Monáe proclaimed when she performed at the January 21, 2017, Women’s March in Washington, D.C.  In 2016 Monáe launched Fem the Future, an initiative to create more opportunities to advance the awareness, inclusion and opportunities for women and those who identify as women through music, arts, mentorship and education.

Fresh off her masterful science fiction inflected third solo album Dirty Computer and the accompanying Dirty Computer: An Emotion Picture, the Prince protégé kept full creative and branding control as a non-negotiable condition when Sean Combs signed her to Bad Boy Records in 2008. Immersed in the performing arts at a young age, Monáe founded her record label the Wondaland Arts Society releasing the EP Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase). Monáe previously released critically acclaimed albums ArchAndroid and The Electric Lady.

She previously acted in Moonlight, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture, and Hidden Figures, which was nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. Monáe will soon be seen on screen in Robert Zemeckis’ Welcome to Marwen, which co-stars Oscar nominee Steve Carrell, Emmy-winner Merritt Wever, as well as Leslie Mann, Diane Kruger, Eiza González, and Gwendoline Christie. 

Further reading: Leslie Mann & Janelle Monae Join Robert Zemeckis 2018 Movie

Monae is also starring in UglyDolls,  an animated family adventure based on the toy brand, which teaches you don’t have to be perfect to be worthy of love, according to Variety.

Harriet will be produced by Debra Martin Chase (The Princess Diaries, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants) with Martin Chase Productions, Daniela Taplin Lundberg (Beasts of No Nation, The Kids are All Right) with Stay Gold Features and Gregory Allen Howard.  Focus Features and Universal Pictures International will distribute the film. 

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Harriet is set to begin filming this October in Virginia.

Culture Editor Tony Sokol cut his teeth on the wire services and also wrote and produced New York City’s Vampyr Theatre and the rock opera AssassiNation: We Killed JFK. Read more of his work here or find him on Twitter @tsokol.