The movie Harriet is based on the incredible true story of abolitionist Harriet Tubman (played by Cynthia Erivo), the woman who led hundreds of enslaved people to freedom through the Underground Railroad and changed the course of American history. It's powerful, it's iconic, and it's worthy of brilliant creative work for the Focus Features brief.

Let's explore the key themes and scenes you could include in your creative work.

Key themes

Slavery and freedom

Harriet Tubman was born into slavery in 1822. The practice was abolished in the Northern states from 1804, but wasn’t made illegal in the South until 1865. The film focuses on Tubman’s courageous acts during this period between 1849 and 1859, and the maliciousness of those involved in the slave trade.

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Spirituality

Faith and religion are important motifs throughout the film. Tubman experienced what she described as ‘visions from God’. In this scene, where she and a group of escapees are being chased down by slave owners, she’s compelled by some higher force to lead the group through the river instead of over land. 

 

Connections

After Harriet fights for her own freedom, she’s desperate to free her husband and sister. It’s a dangerous mission, and she’s met with resistance and heartbreak. But one of the core themes of the film is connections – connections of blood, of circumstance, of a cause, and the literal geographical connections of the Underground Railway. 

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Overcoming adversity 

A year after Harriet escapes she approaches abolitionist William Still (played by Leslie Odom Jr.) and begs for his help to free her family. In this scene he attempts to dissuade her, telling her her escape was a fluke and that she can’t join the underground movement as she can’t read, would get lost, and ultimately would lead the enemy to the abolitionists’ headquarters. She defies him with a blistering response – “Don’t tell me what I can’t do”.  

Key scenes:

This is the committee

Harriet joins the secret underground railroad as a conductor to help slaves escape bondage.  

I'm going to be free or die

Harriet jumps off a bridge to escape her former captor, in one of the many powerful scenes in the movie.

If I'm free, they should be too

Marie (Janelle Monáe) helps Harriet get ready to go back to the place where she was enslaved to liberate her husband. She gives her a dress, and teaches her to carry herself like “a free lady”. She also gives her a pistol, so that “when trouble comes, you’ll be ready”.

Harriet frees the slaves

In this heart-stopping scene Harriet – as the head of a group of enslaved people - races towards safety and freedom, aggressively pursued by a pack of hounds and men on horseback. We track their journey over land and sea towards a new life, and a new world.   

 

There's so much in this movie, it'll be hard to distill it into a few pieces of creative work, but we believe in you!

Check out the full brief from Focus Features, here.

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