New wave of black films crests at 2019 Toronto International Film Festival

“Harriet” (***) The responsibility for getting Harriet Tubman’s legacy as an abolitionist and the history of the Underground Railroad told right is a weight few filmmakers could carry. Director Kasi Lemmons (“Eve’s Bayou”) is up to the task and has a vision. Her efforts are helped by Terence Blanchard’s emotionally charged musical score, John Toll’s evocative cinematography (he makes everyone’s complexion incandescent) and Paul Tazewell’s costumes. The script, by Lemmons and Gregory Allen Howard, pulls the characters into one epic tale of inhumanity, humanity and legendary acts of bravery. Cynthia Erivo (Tony winner “The Color Purple”; film “Widows”) plays “Minty” (Tubman’s nickname) with conviction. The evildoers (Joe Alwyn, Jennifer Nettles) and saviors (Leslie Odom Jr., Janelle Monáe) are perfectly portrayed. Lemmons can be heavy on the flashbacks (black and white clips of a family breakup seem redundant), and the footage looks like a cross between an art/indie film and a Lifetime network movie. But overall, she has accomplished a difficult mission that brings the life of an extraordinary liberator into full view. Finally, the film medium has produced a public record of Harriet Tubman’s heroism. Now it’s time for Tubman’s image to be on the $20 bill.

In theaters Nov. 1, 2019. Info: focusfeatures.com/harriet

About Dwight Brown

Dwight Brown is a film critic and travel writer. As a film critic, he regularly attends international film festivals including Cannes, Sundance, Toronto and the American Black Film Festival. Read more movie reviews by Brown at DwightBrownInk.com.

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