By Vikki N. Jenkins, M.A.
I would like to begin Black History Month with a tribute to Harriet Tubman. Many of us of African descent, are here today, because of her courage to help ensure our ancestral line survived enslavement. I find no better way to pay tribute by acknowledging the film released in 2019, “Harriet” that so brilliantly captured the essential essence of this incredible woman.
This recently released film on Tubman was an important movie for a few obvious, and other less obvious reasons. Let’s begin with those most of us can visibly recognize. First, It was directed by an extraordinary black woman, Kasi Lemmons, and the screenplay written by Lemmons and Gregory Allen Howard. The producer, Debra Martin Chase is also African American. For these incredible people to produce a film about Tubman, that so adequately captures her true human essence, is no-doubt a difficult feat in the entertainment world, and their work and contribution is recognized and appreciated. So during this Black History Month, let’s also recognize their amazing contribution in bringing the life of Harriet Tubman to the film world.
The movie “Harriet”, Secondly, contributed to the human understanding of this amazing woman, who may be the first person of African descent, to be depicted on U.S. currency. Third, it is a great opportunity for parents to teach their children about Harriet Tubman, and her contributions to the diaspora African community and the world.
In a society where Black people are often overly critical of one another, and acceptance of films of other racial groups who speak for us is the norm, it is not surprising the movie received harsh criticism from numerous black film commentators. Nonetheless, I highly commend the film “Harriet” as it offers both a spiritual and historical account of Tubman’s life; the former of which is almost always overlooked or minimized by Tubman scholars, writers, and others. I believe the spiritual component to be the most important message of the film because it accurately captured her inner essence.
First, Harriet Tubman was a woman of God with fearless faith, and an energetic thankfulness that granted her energized blessings to bring over 200 enslaved Africans to freedom in the Northern States of America. This was no easy feat. It was Tubman’s unconditional belief in God that guided her path to travel 19 times from the southern to the northern states of America to bring those, who entrusted her with their life, to a place free of enslavement and blatant terrorism. The director, producer, and writers were able to bring this foundational aspect of her life to viewers who may have previously perceived her in narrow political or historical terms.
Secondly, Tubman’s belief in God is what created the woman that forever lives in the hearts and minds of so many who learn of her courage. Lemmons, Howard and Chase have placed her in the proper location for the world to recognize, honour and discuss her contribution to humanity within the context of her spiritual belief as to the foundation of her courageous abolitionist achievements.
Finally, despite a lack of birth records of Black people born during enslavement, it is conceivable, that generations of our families who live in the contemporary now are here because Tubman possibly freed someone in our generational lines, that led to the birth of our grandparents, parents, ourselves and children.
I applaud the brilliance of the film and the gentle reminder, we must be forever grateful for people who have unselfishly risked, committed and sacrificed their personal life in the battle against human injustice, and social terrorism. We can honour Harriet Tubman through a recognition, remembrance and respect that we embrace personally, and share with our families and community, especially the children.