Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Is It Right To Railroad The Movie "Harriet" With A Boycott?

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The Movie Harriet Get's Railroaded On Issues Having Nothing To Do With The Portrayal Of This Legendary Icon Of The Underground Railroad 
 Harriet Poster

By Kamau Austin

Despite the furor and controversy I am supporting the film "Harriet."  The film directed by Kasi Lemmons and starring Cynthia Erivo as Tubman, Leslie Odom Jr., and Janelle Monáe, is based on the legendary, iconic anti-slavery and Underground Railroad conductor Harriet Tubman.  Harriet Tubman, was a 5ft Moses like real life superhero who is glossed over in history and the kind of person I'd like to see portrayed in film and TV more often.  So why are Blacks boycotting the movie?

I've listened to ADOS leaders, woke folks, and others who have interesting commentary on why we should boycott the movie.  Some of this controversy has interesting merit however, a lot of the complaints on Harriet are reaching. But what are the criticisms for boycotting the movie?

In short the major complaints about the movie are:

  • The actress Cynthia Erivo, is British, of Nigerian descent - not ADOS (American Descendents Of Slaves).
  • The actress Cynthia Erivo made a statement some people considered insulting to Black Americans about her learning ghetto dialects or something.
  • The movie suggested a loving interest by the white slaver who is also portrayed as a savior in the movie.
  • They don't like the Black bounty hunter - he's a stereotype of hateful Black men.
  • Comcast which owns the film is attacking some Civil Rights Laws with Trumps DOJ.  In my opinion some of these are valid concerns but others are reaching.  Let's unwrap some of these critiques...

Cynthia Erivo gives a stirring performance singing the theme song she helped write
"Stand Up!"


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Article & Trailer Video On Harriet The Film Continues Below...


I don't know peeps.  We've complained for years about Hollywood typecasting us as pimps, gangsters, and street hustlers and now we have films portraying real super heroes like Harriet Tubman and now - we want to boycott it?

We supported Black Panther to the tune of it making over 1.5 billion dollars for fictional heroes created by nonblack people.  But we wanna boycott Harriet Tubman's movie probably one of the bravest Black people in history?

Naw, I'm going to see the movie.  I'm not giving the movie industry an excuse to avoid making substantive movies on Blacks who changed history especially when much of the movie's criticisms are simply untrue or reaching based on interpretations.

Let's look at these criticisms. 

Criticism: Star Cynthia Erivo, is British, of Nigerian descent - not ADOS.

Response: I'm a person who believes Blacks in the US are only 15% of the US population.  Rather than being provincial and seeing each other as rivals why not work together with 1.5 billion Blacks or people of African descent globally in unity?

ADOS people to me seem to be pushing division among Blacks with different locations and backgrounds in view of the hope for reparations in the US - which may not even come about because 70% of people (mostly whites) don't support it.

Criticism:  The actress Cynthia Erivo made a statement some people considered insulting to Black Americans alluding to using ghetto dialects or something.

Response: Cynthia Erivo stated the remark was made when she was a teenager and related to an artistic endeavor - it was not meant to be insulting.  Many of us US Blacks have used the terms ghetto, n'words, or other less than flattering terms when we were teenagers.  Are we supposed to castigate this emerging talented actress for the rest of her life for things we also hear and have done in the past?

Criticism:  The movie suggested a loving interest by the white slaver who is also portrayed as the savior in the movie.

Response: this is an overreaching interpretation.  I don't want to spoil the movie to those who haven't seen it.  Harriet is the savior type character in this movie.  There is no romance in the movie between Harriet and the slaver - that is a lie or misrepresentation of the movie.

Criticism: They don't like the Black bounty hunter.  The Black Bounty hunter Bigger Long is the 2nd antagonist in the movie and he is a non-historical figure made up to stereotype the Black man.

Response: I didn't like the Bigger Long character either.  However, he was a composite character commonly done in movies.  We know in slavery times there were Black overseers, snitches, bounty hunters, and even slaveholders.  Bigger Long repped those types of Black people who hated and worked against the interests of Black people back in slavery.  We have these types of people even today.

Criticism:  Comcast which owns the film is attacking some Civil Rights Laws with Trump's DOJ.

Response:  Byron Allen made the community aware of legal action he is taking against Comcast to open up opportunity in the cable industry and media industry for himself, Blacks, and people of color.  He has won a number of legal contests and his law suit is headed to the Supreme Court.

To fight the law suit Comcast is trying to eviscerate a Civil Rights law to defeat him in the courts and the DOJ is weighing in on the topic.  To get the background on this checkout his interview click here
This actually is really the only critique that really resonates with me.  However, I don't think Byron Allen would support boycotting the movie.  Plus we can put economic pressure on Comcast in other ways beside boycotting the movie like moving our subscriptions.  

How many ADOS and woke folks are advocating boycotting Comcast subscriptions, divesting in their stock, or switching over?  I haven't seen any yet.


 But the bottom-line for me is most of this criticism is around surrounding issues other than how Ancestor Harriet Tubman is portrayed in the movie.  She is portrayed as a strong independent deliverer of Black people by Cynthia Erivo who did Harriet Tubman proud in my opinion.

In Conclusion

Harriet is a film not a documentary. I've read a lot about Harriet Tubman for years and the film does her justice. It has its idiosyncrasies, Hollywood tropes, and typecasting but Harriet lived for 91 years. How can your get all that into a little over 2 hours without creativity and composite characters?

They made certain points with composite characters however it was an insightful and inspiring film.

Lastly let's look at what was factual in the film. Harriet was hit in the head as a young person (about 13-years old) with like a 3-pound iron, thrown at another slave, that hit her.

She escaped to freedom and went back to get her husband who remarried. She still became a conductor in the Underground Railroad.

She helped personally save dozens of slaves.  She became a spy, and was the 1st woman to lead an armed army regiment in US history.

She helped the Union Army win the war also saving another 700 to 800 slaves.  She was a women of diminutive stature but had lofty ideals and showed tremendous courage returning to save others.

She accounted she had seizures where she saw God inspired visions and dreams that helped her to escape.

So the movie showed all this factual information but I'm supposed to feel some kinda way because it took creative license on a slaver and bounty hunter?  This is some kinda Black woke respectability coercion.  "Miss me on that," I'm not boycotting a movie on one of my favorite heroes/sheroes based on a couple of flimsy creative details.

Harriet was no doubt one of the bravest committed Black people in history and I'm not boycotting seeing her story (finally shown on screen) based on a few details on her slaver and bounty hunters or antagonists.  Let's support this movie. Please See Harriet:  Kasi Lemmons, Cynthia Erivo, and the cast portrays her powerfully well. 


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Posted by community events coordinator, Nzinga Lonstein Austin, is a prolific blogger who writes on the entertainment industry and issues for people with developmental and physical challenges.

She is presently in high school looking to have a career in video, film, and media. You can see more of her entertainment writing on Lonstein Movies.


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