Saw he movie ‘Harriet.’ I did enjoy it. After watching it I feel Harriet Tubman needs to be elevated and revered as ‘Momma Moses.’ She protected and took care of our people in ways few can match. She’s worthy of canonization, patron saint of Black Americans. Don’t wait for the Catholic church to do it, she is not their people. She is ours. If you have an ancestral altar, you may want to have her picture among your ancestors. Yes, I feel that deep and personal about her story as played out on screen.
Two hours in length and the pacing was comfortable. It didn’t feel long or unduly drawn out, and stayed interesting throughout. When it was actually over, I thought “that’s it?” I thought something was missing. I expected it to be about her life from beginning to end or from ‘Moses’ to end, but that likely would have involve a longer and more condensed movie with a lot more lost.
If you learned about Harriet in school, her main and only association was with freeing slaves and maybe there was a blip about working for the Union Army. This seemed to comprise her entire life story as I know it then I assumed she died shortly after (it doesnt help that the only picture we had was of an older woman, so we imagine her doing all this as a stern older woman with a gun, leading her literal and figurtive children to freedom and safety).
We never got to her death in the movie and this is why it felt incomplete. What many of us probably didn’t figure (including me) is there was a lot more to her 90 years of living than just getting slaves to freedom, and that feat alone took more than a decade to do. 13 trips. 70 people. 100 to 600 miles by horse-drawn wagon, boat, and feet all while hiding away from pattyrollers and slave catchers
I drove 300 miles in a car for 5 hours unencumbered and felt exhausted after. I drive or ride 30 to 200 miles weekly. Its easy for my sense of time and distance to not reflect the reality of the period.
Harriet Tubman was 26 years old when she escaped to freedom in Philidelphia. A young woman. When she made her last trip she was about her late 30s and still a moderately young woman for that time.
Afterwards she recruited rebels with John Brown and when the civil war began in 1861 she worked as a cook, nurse, spy, armed scout, and rebel leader. She was in her 50s when she finally retired to her home to take care of her aging parents and took that picture we have all come to know her by. She became a suffragette and fought for women’s rights including the right to vote. She toured and lectured down the eastern seaboard.
The story is not as incomplete as it felt. It was only one part of her time line, the most famous and prominent one that we all learned about.
It was a well told story and Cynthia Erivo, the lead as Harriet, did well in her acting of it. I did feel she lacked the stern look I imagine Harriet to have. You couldn’t imagine her as actually being Harriet but she played the role well. She was passionate and emotional where scenes called for it, but in the rest her expression was soft or void. Her wide eyed look had a ‘doe-in-the-headlights’ effect. I imagine Harriet, being small and slight of stature, not to be mean or menacing or loud but more serious, authoritative, and can make anybody comply with ‘the look.’ I didn’t see Erivo’s character having this affect.
The supporting cast was strong, arguably stronger than the leads. They filled out the movie well. My favorite supporting character was Walter, the young traitor-turned-ally after witnessing Harriet have one of her visions and lead her people by them.
The criticism and threatened boycott.
I was not boycotting the movie, but due to the criticism I was in no rush to see it and really was going to wait for a bootleg the following week. We hold our s/heroes in respect and high regard (sometimes to our detriment with black celebrity idolization). We are leery and critical of our stories getting whitewashed under the guise of ‘artistic license’ and told through the white victors’ eyes that cast him as hero and savior to our people.
The criticism for this movie is warranted but misguided, misinterpreted, and the movie is not due a boycott.
First, the director is a Black woman named Kasi Lemmons. I revisted one of my old horror favorites, ‘Candyman,’ and noticed her name as one of the supporting characters. She was not well known then but has since transitioned into a known and well respected actress and director. Her director credits includes ‘Eve’s Bayou‘ and ‘Talk to Me.‘ She is a person of our tone and voice for this story telling.
Yes, there is a black slave catcher. He brutally kills a black woman and this did not sit well with me at all. It seemed over-the-top, unnecessary, and I wondered if I was seeing our story through a white man’s eyes that softens his rape and murderous abuse of Black people and projects it onto a black man.
The black slave catcher reminded me of Killmonger for murdering black women, but he had no redeeming qualities to save him, no traumatic backstory to understand and sympathize with. There was no grand speech about dying like the ancestors in the midst of a fatal defeat. This man was just a slave, a traitor, trying to earn favor with an enslaver and trying to avoid punishment and pain. This doesn’t justify his actions but I understand the perspective and felt for him anyway. We know these types exist then and now, so full of self hate for the wretched Black skin that is a mark for abuse, harassment, torture, discrimination, and murder. His impression may not be as endearingly understood as Killmonger’s, but its similar to his in a more dangerous and brutal time of life. If you can understand this, you may see his character as a minor but vital part of the movie.
SPOILER ALERT: His death was a twisted act of murder by the enslaver to ‘save’ Harriet. I didn’t like that either. It would have been more fitting for her to kill him herself. She has several chances to kill people who meant her harm but she doesnt kill them.
Next, she does not forgive a white enslaver. She merely refuses to shoot and kill him while he whimpers about the good intentions he had for her. Ofcourse he deserves to be killed. They all do, but Araminta Ross is no killer. That was not part of any narrative I heard or read and the story stuck true to that premise. She didn’t harm anyone. I’m not saying she couldn’t do it if need be, but she is a child of god who believed that he spoke to her and she lived by that. She eschewed personal unnecessary violence and believed her people would be free regardless of if her enslaver lived or died. She did not want his blood on her hands or her conscious. This aint a sign of forgiveness. This is basically realizing that somebody aint shit and that he wont be able to hold back progress regardless. She threw away his gun, rode off on his horse, and left him whimpering on his knees in the woods.
Cynthia Erivo as our lead hero after making negative and disparaging comments about Black Americans 🙄 Cynthia is a Black British woman by way of Africa. She is our kin but not our history and plight. She is a strong and memorable actress from ‘Bad Times at the El Royale’ but my like and respect for her as an actress has abated in light of her comments. Its very common for Black foreigners to have a negative perception of Black Americans. We know this and have come to expect it, but it still makes us angry when its presented. It is an unfair perception and criticism that we no control over. We have embraced our people of the African diaspora and it hurts when they reject and insult us.
The image that white Americans put abroad presents them as an enviable first world country with all the modern and wealthy trappings of a western democratic society. Foreigners do not understand how poverty can exists in the ‘melting pot’ of ‘milk&honey’ and think if anyone (Blacks) can’t achieve success here then we must be lazy welfare leeches. They are not aware or refuse to believe how much racism, discrimination, and social and economic disenfranchisement has contributed to making us unwanted and displaced citizens of our own land and home, and how that contributes to our distinctive culture and errant behavior that we’re criticized so much for.
The relationship between Black Americans and foreign Blacks is marked by social and economic competition. Whites are positioned as the top standard to strive for while Black Americans are positioned as the bottom rung of what is avoided and not to be. This causes intraracial animosity and divisions among Blacks of the African diaspora. We would like to think Black foreigners would understand this and be aware of this division and social conditioning against ourselves. You can’t imagine the anger and heartache when this is not recognized and the negativity and criticism continues to exist about us.
I hope that Cynthia Erivo, in playing one of our most iconic sheroes, has gained an understanding of our history and how it has shaped our present circumstances. I hope she and other Blacks of the diaspora has reconsidered their disparaging comments about Black Americans from the feedback she has recieved and threatened boycott of this movie.
And lastly ~ “not another slave movie!” We wonder what white people get out of making movies about slavery. Is it a way to cast themselves as the ultimate ‘white savior’ among white brutes. “Sure we made mistakes and we were brutal, but many of us were good people who saved you!” 🙄
We don’t fucking care about your savior complex. All snakes look alike. There might be a couple that don’t bite and aren’t poisonous, but we are not spending time and energy to pick them out and praise them or even worse, worship them as our salvation among snakes.
We wonder if whites make slave movies as a way to remind us of how bad it used to be and how far we have came for the benefit of white people to say “well yeah it was bad then, but look at where you are now. Slavery, that’s a thing of the past. Get over it. You have so many credits to your race like Oprah, Jordan, Lil Wayne and Kanye. You have the same chances and opportunities as everyone else, if you can’t make it then you’re just lazy and would rather leech welfare.”
The main other atrocity we can compare our plight and history to is the Holocaust for its study in contrast. “Get over it” is never uttered to the Jews. They have adapted and assimilated well into white culture by virtue of looking like them, all the while maintaining a separate and distinct religious based culture. That culture serves as a reminder of their persecution and pays reverence to their ancestors. Their story will never be defiled, whitewashed, and told by some outsider taking artistic liberties without their input. This is partially why they maintain a huge presence and creative control of Hollywood in movies and music. Remember, everybody and anybody can say ‘nigger’ without recourse but MJ got in trouble for ‘jew me‘ in his lyrical content and Al Sharton was harshly criticized for using one of their slurs. Jews are racist and discriminatory like their white counterparts but are a cohesive group that is feared and well respected. Blacks are projected as the physical embodiment of the fearful Boogieman but remain collectively weak, powerless, and non cohesive.
Black people can’t so easily blend in and maintain collective control where it counts (or pretty much anywhere). As I said before, Black skin is a mark for brutality and discrimination, and the nature of that discrimination and social/financial ladder climbing creates intraracial and class division among Blacks.
Not. Another. Slave movie.
These movies can be personally overwhelming and emotional. The first ‘slave movie’ I ever watched was Roots. I’ve read Black men say that Roots was a sanitized version of history but nonetheless it was enough to make me viscerally angry and think that nearly every 👨🏼👩🏼 needed to be ⚰, but we were too scared and cowardly to wage war against our oppressors and enslavers. That cowardice made me inwardly seethe with rage thinking of how weak, helpless and useless Black people are.
I call it ‘cowardice’ yet I fully understand the will to live peacefully and the desire and determination to succeed while living, but that never quite happened with Black people. Whites always upon always found a way to twist it and control it for their own benefit. When Black people saw a way to survive after slavery under segregation, white people put fire to it. Or, as in the case of our local Kinloch community, they surrounded it to keep the borders from spreading then decimated the population and disperse them elsewhere around the community. Sounds familiar?
Integration was the concession to segregation. It divided up and dispersed collective black achievement, power and dollars. It weakened the black community through intraracial and class divisions. Success became individualized while weakening the collective.
American slavery ‘officially’ ended in 1865. It unoffiacially ended in the form of peonage in 1965. That was the last recorded case of American slave descendants still working as slaves on white people’s property. The exception for slavery which is another form of slavery has not ended. That is prison.
It’s soon to be 2020. We are not far removed from history. The legislation to desegregate schools was in 1954. There are still people living from that era who remember being bused farther away from home to attend ‘better’ white schools. Some are less than 60 years old. Our history is still our present.
I watched some parts of ‘Harriet‘ with a heavy heart and tears in my eyes because I thought “even today, 180 years later the descendants of our enslavers are still hunting, torturing, and murdering the descendants of those they kidnapped and enslaved. They are brutalizing us and tearing apart the families of a new generation of darker skinned people. They are corralling dark skinned people into prisons and ‘detention centers’ like animals.”
I wiped my tear-stained face as I watched Harriet bravely save so many people yet watched in helpless agony as too many died… like we watch in helples agony as too many of our own are still dying today.
Slave narratives are hard to watch because much of it bears resemblance to our current situation. Its not the past. Its the present in a different form. White people are immune to it since this is their personal fishbowl of protection and privilege, but we are not immune. 400 years after touching these shores as chattel, we are still foreign black bodies in this land and struggling to literally and figuratively survive. Africa remains the mother home, but this too is our home and our land. The invaders who stole it still manage to make us feel unsafe and unwelcomed.
A quote from the movie:
Harriet’s remark after Marie tells her she stinks: “I guess you haven’t had the stink of fear or running for your life.”
Marie Buchanon, a born-free black woman: “I have not Harriet. I’m sorry.”
It was oddly satisfying and intriguing that Marie felt the need to apologize to Harriet for the privilege that had not been afforded to her yet made possible by her and people like her. In a way, her apology was acknowledgement and gratitude for that. Marie, being a fancied and privileged free woman of color, had decided to use that to help the less unfortunate escape slavery and lead better lives in better places.
This is what us less unfortunate Blacks would like to see with our own financially privileged Black people. Yes, there is a feeling of resentment, rejection, and being left behind to rot in the ghetto by those wealthy enough to leave. I have this resentment and discussed it with a friend who left his poor all-black community to raise his kids in a better upscale white community and school system. I accused him of being a ‘flighter’ and abandoning his community and people for white folks who hated him and didn’t want him. I was a Black suburbanite living in a somewhat distressed and predominately black neighborhood after much of the white people had flighted. I felt loyal to my community even though I could offer nothing to improve it. Just another poor, bitter, and hapless black soul struggling to survive in the choatic misery of the ‘inner city’ or just outside of it.
My friend sarcastically apologized for leaving his more dangerous and distressed neighborhood to give his kids a better life and education elsewhere among whites. The apology, although sarcastic and insincere in tone, still told of his inner struggle with doing it. He loved his old community and his people. He is popular and widely known among his peers. He knows many of their children through some of the civic activities he was involved in. He went to his community’s schools and was much aware of the problems and struggles his community faced. Its a daunting, complicated, and integrated task to raise the entire community up to par so he did what is generally easier to do for the sake of his family. He moved. His children are removed from the same struggles he faced as a child. Just like Marie Buchanon in the movie, the daughter of enslaved Africans who is removed from the caste struggles of Black enslavement thanks to her parents.
This is his right to move and seek better. He doesn’t owe me or anyone an explanation or apology for doing what he thought was best for him and his family. Marie didn’t owe Harriet an apology for her wealth and privilege. But my friend and Marie are acknowledging the cost and struggles of getting and maintaining what they have by way of explanation and/or apology. I understand and I appreciate that.
Financially and socially privileged Blacks don’t owe anyone anything but most feel a certain sense of helpless responsibility for those left behind, and the hood resents those who flighted. This is part of our intraracial class division brought on by white supremacy and integration into white society. Financially and socially privileged Blacks try to escape this burden or responsibility by blaming the poor Blacks for their lot in life instead of the white people they ran to be among. This furthers the resentment between the poor and more affluent Blacks. We wax poetic about the era of pre-integration when class divisions were less pronounced or nearly non-existent among Blacks. Every Black was a rejected outsider of the white community and establishment so we were forced to live among each other and create a cohesive group of support and achievement. ‘No Black Left Behind’ as something Harriet and the Black abolitionists would say.
And that is what we miss 😔
And what the ruling white establishment will not support 😒
We love you Momma Moses 💞