The other night as we were doing our post-dinner cleanup, I had The Great British Baking Show playing in the background. It was cake week, and if you’ve ever watched GBBS, you know that cake week gets INTENSE. This time, the judges asked the bakers to create busts of their heroes out of cake. Knowing this would be a complete disaster for everyone involved, I stopped cleaning to watch. One of the bakers chose David Attenborough, another Bob Marley, and another chose renowned Jamacian poet, Louise Bennett-Coverly.
As each hero was selected, I found myself reflecting. Who would I choose as my hero? My mind raced through a laundry list of figures in history, science, medicine, social justice, etc. but I couldn’t place just one that inspired me above all others. When I asked my husband his pick, he said Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Great choice.
While I also admire MLK, I still felt lost for “my own” hero. So, it must have been fate that we watched Harriet that night, because in my moment of hero confusion, her epic story inspired me.
In school, the only thing we learned about Harriet Tubman was that she was a major figure in the Underground Railroad. What they failed to mention was that she was also a complete badass. Her accomplishments extended so far beyond the Underground Railroad, although those accomplishments can never be understated. In her lifetime, she saved an estimated 3,000 slaves, and her entire family. She traveled nearly 100 miles, by herself, the first time she left the South.
Oh, and by the way, she couldn’t read, so she navigated all that using the stars and mosses in the woods. Of all the people she saved, and all the risks she took doing it, she never lost one person. Not one.
The film portrayed Harriet as having premonitions that she believed came from God. At random times, Harriet would pass out and then reawaken having seen her vision of the future. I’ve never heard that Harriet Tubman had psychic abilities, so I was curious if the filmmakers took creative liberties with that. To my surprise, it turned out to be true — in some sense at least.
When Harriet (whose real name was “Minty”) was young, she was already on the path to becoming an unstoppable badass. At age 12, a slave owner threw a heavy weight at a fellow slave intending to harm him, but Harriet stepped in between and took the blow. The result was a massive brain injury that was never treated. Due to these injuries, it’s thought that Harriet Tubman’s visions probably stemmed from random bouts of epilepsy or some other neurological condition. When she was older, they wanted to give her brain surgery so she would stop passing out, and she agreed, but refused anesthesia. Instead she opted to literally bite a bullet like Civil War soldiers had to do when a limb was amputated on the battlefield. Ummmm, badass level: 1 Billion.
And that’s not even the most badass thing about her! There’s MORE.
Not only was she a Union scout during the Civil War, but did you know Harriet Tubman was also the first woman EVER to lead a combat assault? A WOMAN. A BLACK woman. In 1800’s America. Leading men into combat.
Hello, yes, American education system? I’d like to file a formal complaint about your approach to teaching us the history of our own country. What other mind-blowing, empowering, and inspiring facts are you just casually glossing over? I’m guessing you’re keeping some of the bad facts from us as well, so we’ll think America has no evils or wrongdoings in its past, right? You need to rethink your life.
“Harriet Tubman led 150 black Union troops across the Combahee River in South Carolina in June 1863. Using information from escaped slaves, she led Union riverboats through Confederate torpedo traps, freeing 750 slaves and dropping off Union troops. The troops burned the estates of influential Southern secessionists who supplied Confederate forces. She didn’t lose a single troop.”
This film was an education, and on top of that, it was engrossing as hell. Cynthia Erivo dominated the screen with her portrayal of Harriet Tubman. I did not know she was also a singer, but that would explain why I was so impressed by her singing throughout the movie. She also sang the original song from the film, Stand Up, which I highly recommend listening to. It will give you chills.
Some people on the internet criticized the film because Erivo is English and they thought Harriet Tubman should be played by an American. Sorry, but that’s stupid. Harriet Tubman may have been American, but I think she would agree that she was first and foremost African; a black woman stripped of her heritage and identity by ignorance. So, you know what, Cynthia Erivo, as a powerful, accomplished, and talented black woman, has every right to play her.
Watch this film. It’s important. It’s interesting. It’s beautifully crafted.
Harriet Tubman is a hero in every sense of the word, and her story is long overdue for its time in the sun. I hope this film does some justice to her legacy, and educates generations to come on what an incredible figure she truly was. Rest in Power, Queen.