Monday, December 9, 2019

Harriet: Fact vs. Fiction

I still haven't seen the movie Harriet yet, but plan to over the Christmas holiday. Since I have just completed a screenplay, I now understand why movies veer away from the complete facts of historical narratives, or become totally different stories when based on works of fiction. Catalyst, motivation, story arc and time constraints are just a few of the reasons!

Here's some background information on Harriet Tubman from Wikipedia if you don't know much about her:

Harriet Tubman (born Araminta Ross, c. March 1822 – March 10, 1913) was an American abolitionist and political activist. Born into slavery, Tubman escaped and subsequently made some 13 missions to rescue approximately 70 enslaved people, including family and friends, using the network of antislavery activists and safe houses known as the Underground Railroad. During the American Civil War, she served as an armed scout and spy for the Union Army. In her later years, Tubman was an activist in the struggle for women's suffrage. Click here for more.

Now here's a fact mentioned later in the above quoted article:

In 1849, Tubman became ill again, which diminished her value as a slave. Edward Brodess tried to sell her, but could not find a buyer.[Angry at him for trying to sell her and for continuing to enslave her relatives, Tubman began to pray for her owner, asking God to make him change his ways. She said later: "I prayed all night long for my master till the first of March; and all the time he was bringing people to look at me, and trying to sell me." When it appeared as though a sale was being concluded, "I changed my prayer", she said. "First of March I began to pray, 'Oh Lord, if you ain't never going to change that man's heart, kill him, Lord, and take him out of the way.'" A week later, Brodess died, and Tubman expressed regret for her earlier sentiments.

Below is the same incident as portrayed in the movie (this is from's article What's Fact and What's Fiction in Harriet?):

In the movie, as in real life, Harriet’s journey to freedom is kicked into high gear upon the death of her master, Edward Brodess. Brodess’ son Gideon had caught Minty praying for the death of his father after he refused to set her free. Tight on cash and unnerved by her seemingly prophetic praying power, he puts Minty up for sale, and Minty leaves her husband behind in her rapid solo escape. Her father helps her tap into the Underground Railroad through a local free black preacher—based on Dorchester County’s real-life freed slave, preacher, and Tubman collaborator Reverend Samuel Green—and after an almost 100-mile journey, she makes it to Philadelphia.

Harriet really did pray for the death of her master...but it’s unlikely that she was sold for that reason. In reality, as in the movie, the Brodess family was in dire straits after the death of Edward, and Eliza, his widow, planned to sell slaves to pay off debts.

Be sure to read the entire article from here to see how closely the movie sticks to the facts.

Have you seen Harriet yet? If so, what did you think? Thanks for visiting and have a great week!


William Kendall said...

I wasn't aware there was a movie.

Maria McKenzie said...

I happened to see the preview back in August when I went to see Downton Abbey at the movie theater.