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Movie Commentary: Harriet

Harriet-movie-posterHarriet Tubman – one of the most famous civilians prior to the Civil War – is today equated with the abolitionist movement in the United States, when the issue of slavery arose to tear the country apart, perhaps never to be healed.

Not much detail is known of Tubman’s life (born Araminta Harriet Ross, or “Minty” and later changed to reflect her desire for freedom) except that she is credited with guiding over 300 people through the underground railroad to freedom in the North. And she led an armed expedition during the Civil War which resulted in the freeing of an additional 700 souls. With over 1,000 people freed from slavery, the details pale in comparison but provide wide creative latitude for writers and filmmakers intent on celebrating her life.

“Harriet” to be released today, November 1st, stars Tony Award winner Cynthia Erivo as Tubman and is directed by Kasi Lemmons, who also wrote the script with Gregory Allen Howard. The film has a strong religious message – that Tubman believed all people are children of God and regardless of color, creed, gender or age – all must be free.

Did Tubman hear the voice of God? Was she suffering delusions from a childhood brain injury? The question seems irrelevant because her belief in the righteousness of her mission was a powerful force for good that drove her and those who believed in her to risk their lives in the cause of freedom. And while Tubman believed in the Christian God, the movie should inspire anyone of any religious faith in the power of belief, of spirituality and commitment to a cause.

Tubman led not a mass exodus of slaves from the South, but saved her people in small numbers, repeated many times at great risk. And her example can inspire people of faith to do likewise – to bring people to belief and hope far beyond the realm of the flesh, and to do it one person at a time.

This is the power of religion, to inspire us to work toward humanity’s survival, to love one other, to apply the Golden Rule however expressed in the scriptures of one’s faith.

Leaving the theatre, we walk in the footprints of Harriet Tubman, inspired to find those individuals who need our help, and lead them not from South to geographical North, but from the material realm to a universe of the spirit.


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