It’s almost a cliché to write a thinkpiece about the lack of diversity in the latest set of Oscar nominations. Every year, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences congratulates the best films that English-speaking cis-het white men produced in the preceding year, and also some of the bad ones too. Oh, and they’ll also throw in a meagre handful of films made by women, people of color, etc. The slate of nominees for the upcoming 2020 Academy Awards is exceptionally representative of this feet-dragging approach to representation and inclusivity.
Here it is, 2019, and we’re just getting our very first feature film biopic of civil rights legend Harriet Tubman. It’s just a shame that it isn’t a more inspired one. Cynthia Erivo is more than competent in the lead role, bringing a vibrancy and determination to Tubman’s heroism, but the rest of the film is a drab, paint-by-numbers biopic. Harriet was born a slave, under the name of Araminta Ross. When the film begins, she and her free husband John (Zackary Momoh) are unsuccessfully arguing the legality of her enslavement with her master. Their failure to negotiate Harriet’s freedom makes them so desperate that they discuss running away together, but circumstances transpire that force her to take the long, arduous journey north alone.
Harriet Tubman was an amazing woman. She escaped slavery on her own, went back dozens of times to rescue others, lead a military operation south to reach even more people, and after the war fought for women's rights. Her life has been begging for a biopic but until now she has only appeared in a cameo role in "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter"(2012), as the subject of an episode of "Drunk History" (2013-), and on various history shows for kids. "Harriet"(2019) does an excellent job finally brining an extraordinary woman to the big screen.