‘Harriet’ director on bringing ‘a tremendous hero’ to life

Cynthia Erivo stars as Harriet Tubman in “Harriet,” a Focus Features release.
(Glen Wilson / Focus Features)

Host Mark Olsen sits down with “Harriet” director and co-writer Kasi Lemmons about creating a biopic based on the life of abolitionist leader Harriet Tubman.

In the new film “Harriet,” director and co-writer Kasi Lemmons brings Harriet Tubman’s story to life on the big screen. The movie, released November 1, is based on the true events of Tubman’s life as an abolitionist leader. The cast includes Cynthia Erivo, Leslie Odom Jr., Janelle Monáe and Joe Alwyn.

In this week’s episode of “The Reel,” Lemmons tells podcast host and film critic Mark Olsen that she’s not surprised it had taken so long to make a big-screen biopic of Tubman.

“We still have a lot of work to do in terms of women represented in movies. And this is a black woman in a period piece,” Lemmons said.


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Lemmons also elaborates on using research to accurately tell Tubman’s story. She says she read multiple books and all the research she could find on the subject so that she could get the story right.

Cynthia Erivo , right, and Kasi Lemmons
Kasi Lemmons, left, and Cynthia Erivo are the director and star behind “Harriet” a biopic about Harriet Tubman.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

“Lots of times we see a field of black people picking cotton, for instance,” said Lemmons. “I wanted to get into the nuance.”

Lemmons, whose directorial debut was the 1997 film “Eve’s Bayou,” also discusses how she landed the opportunity to direct “Harriet.” Listen to the full episode to hear more about why she’s grateful to have made a movie that chronicles the legendary freedom fighter, Harriet Tubman.

“We’ve been allowed access to certain heroes. But we need access to Harriet because she’s such a tremendous hero. We, as women, we need those heroes. As African American’s we need those heroes and as Americans, frankly. She’s such an inspirational character.”

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