The new film, “Harriet,” which chronicles the life and times of the great Underground Railroad conductor, Harriet Tubman, is very controversial. It also deserves kudos! Some Black people are urging a boycott of the film for several reasons. Chief among the initial reasons was the choice of the lead actor portraying Harriet, Cynthia Erivo, who was born to Nigerian parents in Stockwell, South London. “Woke” Blacks, ADOS (American Descendants of Slavery) numbered among them, feel that an actress selected to play such an important Black American historical personage should be a born citizen of the United States. Moreover, people are critical of disparaging remarks made toward African Americans by Erivo in the past. They feel that someone with such negative views about African Americans should not benefit from being cast in the film. On another note, ADOS feel that the part should be played by an African American who can trace lineage from slavery on American soil.
The criticisms directed at the film described above were circulating BEFORE the film was released in the United States. Other criticisms include the fact that a white man is seen as the savior, and the chief villain, a slave catcher, is a Black man. It is not exactly true, however, that the white man was the savior; Blacks played an important part in every aspect of the film. However, for whatever reasons, people have latched onto that notion as another reason to hate the film. Another concern is that the film is “formulaic.” And a more recent excuse to call for a boycott is a skirmish between comedian and television producer Byron Allen, founder and CEO of Entertainment Studios, who is suing Comcast and Charter Communications for racial discrimination. Comcast is the parent company of the film’s production company Focus Features. Admittedly, this is troubling, but where are the other films about Harriet Tubman? Is a bird in the hand worth two in the bush?
Black opponents of the film seem to not understand several important points. For one, tradition has shown that there always has to be someone who is a traitor on the inside with key access to important information and resources in order for oppression to be successful. In other words, a group cannot be vanquished unless someone from inside the oppressed group helps the oppressors. For example, slavery could not have occurred had it not been assisted by native Africans. It is also true that there were Black slaves who assisted their slave masters in keeping order among the slaves and to help capture runaways. To sum up, there are white devils and Black saints as well as Black devils and white saints. Harriet Tubman, who freed over 300 slaves without losing one, was helped by a whole network of people in the Underground Railroad, and they were a mixed bunch. This is not to diminish Harriet’s role. What she accomplished was nothing short of miraculous. Notably, a side of Harriet Tubman not generally known was revealed by the film. She was a mystic who regularly talked with God and had incredible intuition to which she attributed those talks.
In addition to the point that Black critics of the film are disturbed by the notion of Black traitors, they also seem to ignore the fact that there were real Black heroes in the film. These include William Still, a Black leader who shepherded her into the Underground Railroad; the plantation preacher who was a double agent of sorts pretending to be a sycophant of the white plantation owner while being Harriet’s conduit to the Underground Railroad; and the Black slavecatcher who converted and became a helpmate to Harriet after seeing the power of prayer working in her life. Furthermore, the film employed many Blacks in key positions including Kasi Lemmons, director; Gregory Allen Howard directing from a screenplay that was previously written by Seith Mann; actors Leslie Odom Jr., Janelle Monae, Vanessa Bell Calloway, and a number of other African Americans with crucial parts in the film. “Harriet” was very, very inspirational. One can only wonder at the motives of those Blacks who are attempting to keep Black people from seeing this powerful cinematic offering. Ultimately, the call for boycotts, using shifting excuses, seems to be aimed at disrupting and dividing the Black community under the guise of Black advocacy. Caveat Emptor! The benefits of “Harriet’’ far outweigh its deficits and deserves a big Hooray! A Luta Continua.