Tenacious Tubman

How the American hero is making her way to Virginia and to the big screen.

Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress

Abolitionist, suffragist, and war veteran Harriet Tubman will appear on the big screen in her first film biography, focused on her life and work involving the underground railroad. In September, the filming of Harriet was officially announced to take place in central Virginia, including locations in Richmond, Petersburg, and Cumberland and Powhatan counties.

Harriet was originally slated to be filmed in New York, but thanks to the director of the Virginia Film Office, Andy Edmunds, the cast and crew of Focus Features production company fell in love with the locations and scenery in Virginia. “This particular project was already scouting in July,” Edmunds explains. “I happened to get a tip from a crew member I knew who told me they were filming a movie about Harriet Tubman up in New York. I said, ‘Wait a minute. This movie should be in Virginia, we could do this better than anyone.’”

Edmunds is optimistic about the cultural and economic impact that Harriet will have on Virginia. “Whenever a movie comes to a region, all the cast and crew act as super tourists with a payroll,” he says, adding, “After the filming and production are all done and the movie comes out, people are going to want to visit the areas of the filming.”

Tubman will be played by award-winning actress Cynthia Erivo, most notable for her roles on Broadway, such as the 2015 Broadway revival of The Color Purple, as well as her more recent films Widows and Bad Times at the El Royale. The film will be directed by Kasi Lemmons, known for her work on thrillers such as Silence of the Lambs, Eve’s Bayou, The Caveman’s Valentine, and Talk to Me.

Harriet is expected to be released next fall.  Edmunds’ hope is that by the time the movie comes out, “people will be paying cash with Harriet Tubman’s picture on it to go see the film.” Film.Virginia.org

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