Is Harriet Based on a True Story? Harriet: Bringing History to Life

“Harriet unfolds the tapestry of truth, weaving history’s threads into a cinematic masterpiece that honors the indomitable spirit of a real-life superhero, Harriet Tubman.”

Who is Harriet?

Summary: Harriet Tubman, born Araminta Ross in March 1822, was a remarkable American abolitionist and social activist. After escaping slavery, Tubman conducted around 13 missions, rescuing approximately 70 enslaved individuals, including her family, through the Underground Railroad. During the Civil War, she served as an armed scout and spy for the Union Army. In her later years, Tubman actively contributed to the women’s suffrage movement.

Born into slavery in Dorchester County, Maryland, Tubman faced adversity from a young age. Enduring physical abuse, including a traumatic head injury, she developed visions and dreams, which she attributed to premonitions from God. In 1849, Tubman escaped to Philadelphia and subsequently embarked on missions to rescue her family and others from slavery.

Tubman played a pivotal role in guiding enslaved individuals to freedom, earning her the nickname “Moses.” Her efforts continued during the Civil War, where she worked for the Union Army and led a significant raid at Combahee Ferry, liberating over 700 enslaved people. Tubman’s commitment to freedom and activism persisted until her later years, making her an enduring icon of courage and liberation.


Araminta Ross (Harriet Tubman)

Date of Birth

Approximately March 1822[1]


Dorchester County, Maryland, U.S.


March 10, 1913 (aged 90–91)

Place of Death

Auburn, New York, U.S.

Resting Place

Fort Hill Cemetery, Auburn, New York, U.S.


Civil War scout, spy, nurse, suffragist, civil rights activist

Known For

Guiding enslaved people to freedom


John Tubman (married in 1844, divorced in 1851) Nelson Davis (married in 1869, he died in 1888)

Is Harriet Based on a True Story?

Harriet tells the true story of Harriet Tubman, the abolitionist and leader of the Underground Railroad. The film, directed and co-written by Kasi Lemmons, stars Cynthia Erivo as Harriet, along with a talented cast including Leslie Odom Jr., Janelle Monáe, Joe Alwyn, and Clarke Peters. While the movie captures the remarkable life of Tubman, it also takes some creative liberties, as is common in biopics, to fill in parts of the true story.

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Araminta Ross, later known as Harriet Tubman, had a story that took a long time to make it to the screen. The film, however, was worth the wait, doing justice to Tubman’s historical significance and her efforts to free slaves during the American Civil War. Kasi Lemmons’ direction brought a respectful and skillful portrayal of Tubman, presenting her as the true superhero she was. Cynthia Erivo’s performance, capturing the character’s struggles and determination, earned her Academy Award nominations. While the film may not precisely match every detail of Tubman’s recorded story, it comes very close.

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Harriet – Film

“Harriet” is a 2019 American biographical film directed by Kasi Lemmons. It tells the story of abolitionist Harriet Tubman and stars Cynthia Erivo in the lead role, alongside Leslie Odom Jr., Joe Alwyn, and Janelle Monáe in supporting roles. The movie had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 10, 2019, and was released in the United States on November 1, 2019, by Focus Features.

Cynthia Erivo, known for her remarkable performance, was cast in February 2017. Filming occurred in Virginia from October to December 2018. The film received generally positive reviews from critics, commending Erivo’s portrayal of Tubman. While considered sincere, some critics found the film somewhat formulaic. It achieved moderate commercial success, grossing $43 million worldwide against a $17 million production budget.

The movie earned numerous accolades and nominations, especially for Cynthia Erivo’s performance, leading to nominations at prestigious events like the Academy Awards, Golden Globes, and the Screen Actors Guild. Additionally, the song “Stand Up,” performed by Erivo and Joshuah Brian Campbell, received nominations for the Oscar, Grammy, and Golden Globe awards.

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Harriet Release Date


“Harriet” was first shown to the world at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 10. Afterward, it officially hit theaters in the United States on November 1, 2019. If you wanted to own a copy, you could buy the Blu-ray or DVD, and these were available for sale starting from January 14, 2020.

Harriet Plot

The plot of “Harriet” begins in 1849 Maryland, a slave state, where Araminta “Minty” Ross is enslaved on the Brodess plantation. Minty is newly married to freedman John Tubman, and they desire to start a family with freedom for their children. When their owner tears up a legal letter stating Minty’s mother should be free, Minty decides to escape to freedom, leaving her husband behind.

Minty faces pursuit but jumps into a river to declare her will to be free. Presumed drowned, she successfully reaches Wilmington, Delaware, and meets abolitionist Thomas Garrett, who helps her on her journey. In Philadelphia, she adopts the name Harriet Tubman. After a year, Harriet seeks William Still’s help to bring her family to freedom. Devastated by John’s remarriage, Harriet leads slaves to safety, earning a place on the Underground Railroad committee.

As “Moses,” she guides slaves to freedom, facing challenges with the Fugitive Slave Act. Harriet learns of Rachel’s death and confronts Gideon, her pursuer. She escapes to Canada, returns to rescue her parents, and leads an armed expedition in the Combahee River Raid, freeing many slaves. The epilogue highlights her achievements, including freeing over 70 slaves, serving as a Union spy, and advocating for women’s suffrage, ending with her death at around 91.

Harriet Review

On Rotten Tomatoes, the movie has a 74% approval rating based on 235 reviews, with an average rating of 6.6/10. Critics on the site say that “Harriet serves as a sincere tribute to a pivotal figure in American history—albeit one undermined by its frustratingly formulaic approach.” Metacritic, another review aggregator, gives the film a score of 66 out of 100, indicating “generally favorable reviews” from 41 critics. Audiences who watched the film gave it an “A+” grade on CinemaScore, and PostTrak ratings averaged 4.5 out of 5 stars, with a 69% “definite recommend.”

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In a review for The New York Observer, Rex Reed noted that “Harriet” holds interest and invites respect, praising Cynthia Erivo’s “valiant and committed performance.” Richard Roeper from the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film three out of four stars, applauding Erivo’s convincing and powerful acting, as well as Kasi Lemmons’ approach to the story, describing the historical fiction as crackling.

However, some reviewers were less positive. Eric Kohn of IndieWire gave the film a “B−,” stating that “Harriet” doesn’t reinvent the biopic but relies on Cynthia Erivo’s poignant performance. Owen Gleiberman, writing for Variety, mentioned that while Cynthia Erivo plays Harriet Tubman with mournful fury, the rest of the biopic is more dutiful than inspired.

Harriet Where to Watch


“Harriet” is available to watch on various streaming platforms. You can check popular streaming services like Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, or HBO Max to see if “Harriet” is part of their movie catalog. Additionally, you might find it available for digital rental or purchase on platforms like Google Play Movies, iTunes, or Vudu. Keep in mind that the availability of movies on streaming platforms can change over time, so it’s recommended to check the current offerings on the platforms mentioned.

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