Movie review: Harriet [as in Tubman]

Cynthia Erivo as Harriet is phenomenal

HarrietThinking back on the movie Harriet, I had a sense I had seen a superhero movie. I don’t mean that necessarily as pejorative. Some comic characters have been bitten by a radioactive spider or slammed by gamma rays. Harriet Tubman, after a particularly nasty blow to the head, saw visions. This gift allowed her to escape enslavement, then lead others to freedom. A couple critics, I later learned, agree.

Cynthia Erivo as Harriet is phenomenal. She previously won a Tony for playing Celie in The Color Purple on Broadway. Not only did she seem to physically embody the role, but she also sang some great versions of spirituals. The complaint that an American, rather than the London-born performer should have had the role of an iconic American hero is a debate others can have.

Director/co-writer Kasi Lemmons helmed the movie Eve’s Bayou (1997), which I recall as quite impressive. She also directed other things, including an episode of Luke Cage. She used a bit of nepotism, but her casting choices worked out well. Her husband, long-time actor Vondie Curtis-Hall was great as Reverend Green, and did a particularly effective call and response. Their son Henry Hunter Hall, as the scout Walter did NOT muck up his mom’s film.

Put her on the $20!

Harriet Tubman is an important historical figure who has long been deserving of a major motion picture, not to mention being put on the $20 bill. After we left the Spectrum Theatre, my wife expressed disappointment that the movie ended with a brief scene during the Civil War and nothing but screen descriptions of her active life thereafter.

Maybe that could be the focus of the next Harriet Tubman film. While the fans gave the movie a 97% positive ratings, the critics were only 72% positive. I must agree with some of the criticism. This includes the fine Leslie Odom, Jr., Tony winner for playing Aaron Burr in Hamilton, given almost nothing to do except responding to Harriet.

Susan Granger’s positive review says it best: “Inspirational biopic, hampered only by its simplified, conventional story-telling. Another favorable review, by Abbie Bernstein: “We come out of HARRIET feeling like we’ve seen something important that we ought to have seen. But we don’t feel like we’ve lived through it alongside any of its people, and it seems like that should have been part of the experience.”

It was important that the movie Harriet was made. Although it felt, inexplicably, at arm’s length, I was really glad to see it, as I learned quite a bit. I’d LOVE to see a sequel, perhaps focusing on her time in Auburn, NY; we’ve been to the house.

Harriet Tubman Home, Auburn, NY

“The best part of the experience was the gentleman that provided the overview of Harriet Tubman’s life and conducted the tour.”

Vacation, July 18, 2016

The final stop on our summer vacation last year was to the Harriet Tubman Home. You are probably familiar with the heroics of arguably the country’s leading abolitionist. But the house, and its use, is an interesting story too.

“In 1858 New York Senator William Seward” – the future US Secretary of State who helped the US buy Alaska from the Russians in 1867 – “made Harriet Tubman a proposition. He would sell her his property in Auburn, NY for a reasonable price and flexible terms.” This transaction was technically illegal.

“Auburn had a strong abolitionist group and Seward was a well known supporter of the Underground Railroad who Harriet could depend on for funds and shelter for her people.

“Before the Civil War about 500 slaves passed through Auburn on their way north. Tubman knew Senator Seward well as she had used his house as a station many times. She was encouraged to move to Auburn [from St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada] by a long time friend and supporter, Lucretia Mott.

“In 1886 her house was destroyed by fire, none were hurt. Nelson Davis, Tubman’s second husband, was a brick maker and helped rebuild her house. He replaced the original wood structure with brick, making it stronger and longer lasting.

“In order to fulfill her dream to build a home for the elderly Tubman purchased additional land. In 1896 Tubman bought at auction 25 acres of land adjacent to her property located at 182 South Street. The land was sold for $1,450. The AME Zion Church raised funds and with the support of a local bank providing a mortgage Tubman was able to complete the transaction.”

We agree with most of the folk on Trip Advisor, that “The best part of the experience was the gentleman that provided the overview of Harriet Tubman’s life and conducted the tour. He was so very well informed and you could tell truly enjoys what he does in sharing her life with everyone that visits. The tour of the home was good; however, his presentation made this terrific.”

Of course, Harriet Tubman is scheduled to be on the $20 bill at some point before 2024. Harriet died on March 10, 1913, and March 10 is a minor holiday, especially in New York State.

Ahead of the curve: Harriet Tubman on the $20

I took some great pleasure from the large number of folks who expressed confusion at the decision to pick the $10 for revision.

harriet_tubman20As you’ve likely heard, the redesign of the United States currency involves putting Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill. While most people thought it was a swell idea, naturally there have also been all sorts of backlash.

One thread, which I shan’t link to, was an attack on political correctness. “Why can’t we have money the way we’re used to?” Why, she wasn’t even a President! Neither were Alexander Hamilton ($10) or Benjamin Franklin ($100).

But the path to get Tubman on the $20 actually predated any government initiative. A non-profit group called Women On 20s was campaigning in early 2015 to get a woman on that popular denomination. I wrote about it on March 15, 2015, including the organization’s reasons for booting Andrew Jackson, in addition to the Trail of Tears: “He was a fierce opponent of paper money and the central banking system, and would probably be horrified to see his face on our national currency.”

Five weeks later, I explained why Harriet Tubman is my choice for the $20 bill. She won the Women on the 20 online poll, announced around May 10, barely beating out Eleanor Roosevelt, who I also seriously considered.

So I was disappointed to hear Treasury Secretary Jack Lew announce in mid-June 2015 that the US is changing the face of the $10 bill. Because of my close personal relationship with Alexander Hamilton, I opposed that choice.

Moderators finished the Republican debate in mid-September by asking the candidates which woman they would put on the $10 bill.

The Rand Paul: Suffragist Susan B. Anthony

Mike Huckabee: His wife, Janet [living people cannot appear on U.S. currency]

Marco Rubio: Civil rights activist Rosa Parks

Ted Cruz: Put Rosa Parks on the $20 bill and keep Alexander Hamilton on the $10 [props to Cruz for picking the $20!]

Ben Carson: His mother, Sonya [still alive]

Donald Trump: Rosa Parks

Jeb Bush: Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher [God save the PM]

Carly Fiorina: “We shouldn’t change the $10 dollar bill or the $20 dollar bill. I think, honestly, it’s a gesture. I don’t think it helps to change our history. What I would think is that we ought to recognize that women are not a special interest group. Women are the majority of this nation, we are half the potential of this nation and this nation will be better off when every woman has the opportunity to live the life she chooses.” [Sisterhood is powerful.]

Scott Walker: American Red Cross founder Clara Barton

Chris Christie: First Lady Abigail Adams

John Kasich: Nobel Peace Prize-winner Mother Teresa [it needs to be an American]

These were some lame answers.

Oddly, I took some great pleasure from the large number of folks who expressed confusion at the decision to pick the $10 for revision. “I thought they had picked the $20,” I read fairly often. People conflated an online campaign by the nonprofit with government action!

Fortunately, the Hamilton musical, which started previews on July 13, 2015, and opened on August 6, became a phenomenon, eventually winning the Pulitzer Prize. The Treasury Department started looking at the $20 bill and ended up planning to redesign the $5, the $10, AND the $20 bills.

This is what I wrote on December 30, 2015: “This is a prediction, based on nothing but a gut feeling, and the unexplained postponement of the $10 redesign. Obama decides that the $10 won’t be replaced after all, because, in his feisty last year, he wouldn’t do that to old Alex. Instead, he dumps Jackson, an opponent of the banking system. He suggests a woman, a black woman, maybe Rosa Parks, but I’m hoping Harriet Tubman.”

Not sure how much, if anything, the President had anything to do with the process. Still, every once in a while, things work out the way I want them to. Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill! Allow me to enjoy the moment.

Of course, many people think it’s fairly irrelevant. I mean, “Who uses cash, anyway?” (Actually, I did this past weekend, when my chip-technology embedded credit card failed to work at the grocery store. Fortunately, they STILL accept greenbacks.)

Oh, I like this from Samantha Bee: “Andrew Jackson Was ‘Trump With Better Hair'”.


Literally, while I was writing this

[I received an email from Women On 20s:]

Without your help, a woman front and center on the widely circulated $20 bill and female representation on two other bills would not have been possible and we THANK YOU for all your support…

We are pleased to claim VICTORY and so should you. We think of this, not as a day done but rather a day just beginning that has everyone seeing with new eyes and new hope. You proved we can work together to make a difference and shake up the status quo. The new TRIFECTA — the $5, $10, and $20 — will look like more of what has made us a great country and why you stuck with us for the last year.

After more than a year of campaigning to convince the U.S. Treasury to replace the portrait of Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill with the face of a female American hero, Women On 20s is celebrating your historic game changing influence. Now, the Treasury Department acknowledges the importance of accelerating production on the new $20 bill, and plans to reveal its design in time for the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in 2020. Hallelujah! What’s more, we have been assured that Treasury has a commitment from Federal Reserve Board chair Janet Yellen to fast track the $20’s issuance into circulation. What usually takes 10 years per bill is going to happen so much sooner because Women On 20s will make sure Treasury knows you care.

Whether you voted for Harriet Tubman or not, we hope you’ll agree the freed slave and freedom fighter is an excellent choice to replace the slave trader Andrew Jackson on the $20. She provided critical military intelligence to end a brutal Civil war and later fought for women’s rights alongside the nation’s leading suffragists. Whatever obstacles she faced, she kept going. There was no stopping her. She’s an inspiration and now the whole world will know her story. So, let there be no stopping us from making this and the other currency changes a reality.

[Oh, yeah, and then the pitch for money.]

Once again, thank you and help us keep this dream on track for the celebration of women’s inclusion in our democracy in 2020.

xkcd is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License.

Harriet Tubman is my choice for the $20 bill

harriet_tubman20Previously I mentioned Put a woman on the $20 bill when trying to winnow the list down from 15 choices. At the time, I voted for Margaret Sanger, Sojourner Truth, and Harriet Tubman. My bias was against voting for anyone born in the 20th century, although I gave consideration to Rachel Carson.

From the website: “Eleanor Roosevelt, Harriet Tubman, and Rosa Parks were named by as many as half of the voters in the Primary Round as one of their top three! Because of strong public sentiment that people should have the choice of a Native American to replace Andrew Jackson, Cherokee Nation Chief Wilma Mankiller, was added to the final ballot.”

In the final round, I remain disinclined to vote for people who were alive in my lifetime. Wilma Mankiller (b. 1945), Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation and first elected female Chief of a Native nation in modern times, died only in 2010, and I know relatively little about her.

While I admire Rosa Parks (b. 1913), I’ve thought that, as she was hardly the first person to refuse to go to the back of the bus, though she was the “proper” choice. Moreover, she died in 2005.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884 – 1962) actually died in my lifetime as well, but I’m such a fan, I seriously considered her. A friend of mine was opposed to her because she served from a position of privilege, but I LIKE it when the well-to-do act to help those less fortunate.

Still, Harriet Tubman (c.1822 – 1913) was remarkable.

She returned to the South an estimated 19 times to rescue her family and others from bondage as a “conductor” on… the Underground Railroad, an elaborate secret network of safe houses leading to freedom in the North. Later, with her intimate knowledge of the geography and transportation systems of the South, she became a valuable asset to the Union army as a spy and scout.

After the war, Tubman continued her service to others. She advocated for education and property for freed slaves in the South and she cared for the elderly and poor. Later, she joined the early campaigners for women’s equality and suffrage.

Her Herculean accomplishments were attributed to extraordinary courage, shrewdness and determination. The Quaker Thomas Garrett said of her, “If she had been a white woman, she would have been heralded as the greatest woman of her age.”

I don’t know how long the voting will last. The previous round lasted five weeks, from March 1st to April 5th. I assume this final round will end soon, so vote now.

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