Author Topic: Harriet Tubman Biopic Draws Controversy with Lead Actress Not ADOS  (Read 18171 times)

Offline Emperorjones

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Re: Harriet Tubman Biopic Draws Controversy with Lead Actress Not ADOS
« Reply #75 on: March 03, 2020, 04:06:27 am »
I changed my mind and did watch Harriet, buying a used copy from Red Box. After seeing this film my criticisms of it and my support of detractors has not changed.

Let me say I was watching from an already biased place where this film was concerned, with suspicions about it's agenda, so take my review here with that in mind.

What I liked:
-I thought the cinematography wasn't bad, at times even lush.
-I also thought the costuming wasn't bad.
-Overall Cynthia Erivo's performance was not good, however it had moments. I did like when she returned back into the South and how her personality and the way the talked and carried herself changed. I also thought she has a nice singing voice.
-A lot of the supporting cast, like Vondie Curtis Hall, Leslie Odom Jr., and Clarke Peters, ironically, many of the black male supporting actors weren't bad at all. I also was glad that not all black men were demonized in this film and quite a few did help Harriet. Even her first husband, who remarried after she ran away, wasn't depicted as a lout. There was some complexity and pain there in his performance. He was shown to really love Harriet and ride for her, but she left him out of love for his safety. So it wasn't just he jumped to another woman. He did so after she left and thought she was dead after jumping into a river and either didn't believe or chose not to that she was still alive after hearing stories that she had escaped the river.
-Jennifer Nettles: Though I thought her performance was lackluster, I liked that they showed a white woman complicit in slave owning and just as bad and sometimes worse than white men.

What I didn't like:
-The tone/music: This film, punctuated by the music, felt like an expensive Afternoon Special. The music felt like it was left over from Roots or a '70s television special. I think it undercut some of the emotional/dramatic scenes. No music might have worked better. From what I recall of Twelve Years a Slave, Steve McQueen used no music for his scenes quite effectively.
-Cynthia Erivo as Harriet. Erivo was miscast. It was like she was playacting way too much. She didn't bring the emotional investment into the role like I saw with Nate Parker, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong'o, or even Jamie Foxx in Django. It was like she has a dull, wide-eyed scared look on her face way too much, and that's not just in this movie. I have to wonder if she's just an actress that's great on Broadway but hasn't made the transition yet to the silver screen. There were some times in the film that she did okay, but overall, not a great performance and definitely not one worthy of an Academy Award, Golden Globe, etc.
-Janelle Monae: I thought her 'black' or 'Southern/antebellum' accent was lacking. I thought Monae was good in Hidden Figures, but here, I found her not convincing. Her fictional character was there to push a black feminist agenda and largely nothing more.
-Black feminism: Speaking of black feminism, it wasn't as trenchant as I thought it was going to be in the film, however I could've done without Erivo's Harriet checking Odom's William Still or even Frederick Douglass. Even when I saw the trailer I knew there had to be some scene where Harriet would stand up to black men and we got that, but it wasn't as bad as I thought going into it, or maybe I had just accepted it as inevitable a long time ago. Still it wasn't as annoying as I thought it would be.
-Bigger Long: There was no need to put this fictional character into the film. He was there to be the goon, the black thug/brute stereotype black male. I also didn't think Omar Dorsey's performance was that good. Of course Long committed the most brutal act of violence, against a black woman also of course, in the film, with his graphic murder of Marie.
-Harriet's slave owners. Both performances were uneven. Jennifer Nettles just wasn't a strong actress, and Joe Alywn was sometimey. It took me a few minutes to buy him as a cruel slave owner. He settled into the role as the film went on, but I did notice how they had the pretty boy slave owner and his conflicted, sexually charged interest in Harriet. Thankfully they didn't have Erivo's Harriet play too much into that, but whatever feelings she might have held for him maybe was why she spared him in the end.
-Depiction of slavery: I think the film should've been more graphic in its depiction of slavery. It did show whites slapping slaves, it showed the after effects of whipping, but there was no whipping or even whips (that I recall in the film). There were a lot of n-words, but the casual brutality of slavery should've been in the film so as to not miseducate people who watch this film (because this film felt mostly designed to be shown in high schools, albeit cutting out some of the language) about how horrific slavery truly was. Even Django did a better job than this, a supposedly more historical and serious take on the issue. The film also showed how Harriet's former slave owners were struggling financially, but I am glad that it wasn't sympathetic to that, by trying to create some kind of equivalency, because director Kasi Lemons would have them bemoaning their money situation and saying stuff like the blacks were their prison guards, but then having Nettles slap a young slave or Alywn abuse or threaten a slave, so I was glad the film didn't go with that the slave owners reasons for slavery were legit or deserved consideration. That they were in a bind as well, enslaved in their own way, though I do think that prison/prison guard line from Nettles was hinting at that.
-Fighting back: The climatic scene where Erivo's Harriet, after shooting the gun out of Alywn's hand, injuring him, and having him on his knees, she preaches to him about her visions of the coming Civil War instead of finishing the job, just felt  so Hollywood to me, well black Hollywood instead of white, because if it had been the Julia Roberts Harriet there might have been a different ending for Alwyn's character. Granted, this film was a fictional take on Harriet Tubman's life, but since we are going into the fiction route, it needed a more satisfying finish. Django understood this. Nate Parker's film understood this-to some extent-and ended the film on a more rousing note than I felt Harriet did though I do feel that Harriet's ending emulated Birth of a Nation in a way by jumping ahead to the Civil War. The final scene takes place after the war.
-Harriet's life: Tubman lived into the 20th century and I think this film did a disservice to not explore more of her life. I think there was a dude that was supposed to be John Brown in the film, but he's never named. I mentioned before that she goes off on Frederick Douglass, but he's also never named in the film. I just knew the hairstyle. There were so many things she did, people she knew, this movie just didn't do a good job exploring most of that. I think a prestige television or streaming service miniseries, along the lines of say HBO's John Adams series from a few years back, would've been the better way to go.