Harriet Trailer Evokes Freedom and Protest

The first Harriet trailer has arrived. Cynthia Erivo aims for the EGOT by portraying iconic American freedom fighter Harriet Tubman.

Harriet Tubman

“Welcome to the Underground Railroad,” Harriet Tubman is told in the first Harriet trailer. The film stars Cynthia Erivo in the title role, and puts her in EGOT territory. She won Tony,  Emmy and Grammy awards for her work on Broadway’s The Color Purple.

“Based on the thrilling and inspirational life of an iconic American freedom fighter, Harriet tells the extraordinary tale of Harriet Tubman’s escape from slavery and transformation into one of America’s greatest heroes,” reads the official synopsis. “Her courage, ingenuity, and tenacity freed hundreds of slaves and changed the course of history.”

Harriet was directed by Kasi Lemmons (Eve’s Bayou, Talk to Me), who co-wrote the screenplay with Gregory Allen Howard (Ali, Remember the Titans). It also stars Leslie Odom Jr. (Murder On the Orient Express) as William Still, and Janelle Monáe (Moonlight, Hidden Figures, Welcome to Marwen) as a free black woman. Monáe was recently named the lead in Homecoming season 2.

The Harriet Tubman biopic, which comes from Focus Features, also features Joe Alwyn (Mary Queen of Scots), Clarke Peters (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), and country music star Jennifer Nettles. 

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The trailer begins with Tubman’s escape from slavery, proclaiming she’d rather be dead than enslaved as she tosses herself off a bridge into a rushing current. She then becomes the current, pulling her family to freedom, and ultimately inspiring a movement and history. “God don’t mean people to own people,” we hear her say in the trailer. Tubman personally rescued about 70 enslaved people.

You can watch the trailer here:

The trailer brought controversy over the casting of British actress Erivo, who starred in Widows, Bad Times at the El Royale. Critics suggest an American descendant of slavery should have been cast as Tubman. Some Twitter users are demanding the film be boycotted, as the hashtag #HarrietDeservesBetter has begun trending on social media. The controversy goes back to September 2018 when the casting was first announced.

The film will premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in October. Harriet will hit theaters on November 1.

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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 JFKRead more of his work here or find him on Twitter @tsokol.