Focus Features has announced the official cast and filming start date for the upcoming Harriet Tubman biopic, Harriet. The legendary slave-turned abolitionist and Underground Railroad freedom fighter has been honored time and time again by historians and is finally being added to the U.S. twenty dollar bill, yet has never gotten the proper Hollywood treatment in all that time. That will change at long last with Harriet, which is being headlined by Cynthia Erivo and directed by Kasi Lemmons, from a script the latter cowrote with Gregory Allen Howard (Remember the Titans, Ali).
Erivo is a Tony award winning theater actor herself, thanks to her performance as Celie in the 2015 revival of The Color Purple Broadway play. She will make the leap to being a movie star this fall, with leading roles in Drew Goddard's buzzed-about 1960s-set noir thriller Bad Times at the El Royale and 12 Years a Slave director Steve McQueen's modern crime-thriller, Widows. The latter had its world premiere at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival this past week and picked up much in the way of praise for its direction and cast (Erivo included) from the critics who saw it there.
Per Focus Features' press release, Erivo is being joined in the Harriet cast by her fellow Tony winner Leslie Odom Jr., who is known for originating the role of Aaron Burr in the Hamilton stage musical and costarred in Kenneth Branagh's Murder on the Orient Express last year. Other now-confirmed Harriet cast members include Joe Alwyn (Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk), Clarke Peters (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) and award-winning country singer/songwriter, Jennifer Nettles. Filming on Harriet will get underway this October in Virginia, with most likely a late 2019 release target in mind.
According to producers Debra Martin Chase (The Princess Diaries) and Daniel Taplin Lundberg (Beasts of No Nation), Harriet will explore well beyond its namesake's role in helping slaves escape through the Underground Railroad. In an official statement, the pair note that she was also a spy for the Union army during the U.S. Civil War "and remains one of the the few women to have led an armed expedition in US history". Based on their comments, it sounds as though the film will not only focus on Harriet Tubman's life following her escape from the U.S. South, but also explore her role all the way through the Civil War and possibly beyond.
With acclaimed films like the '60s-set Louisiana familial drama Eve's Bayou and Talk to Me (a memoir about '60s radio show host and activist Ralph Greene) under her belt, Lemmons is an excellent choice to bring Harriet Tubman's story to life on the big screen. Erivo is an equally promising candidate to play the historical icon in a film and will be surrounded by great talent on both sides of the camera, by the sound of it. While this year's awards season discussion is only just beginning, it's a fair bet that film buffs of all shades will be talking about Harriet by the time it hits theaters (and, before then, possibly the film festival circuit) by this time next year, when its own Oscar run starts.
Harriet does not have an official release date yet.
Source: Focus Features