“This will have action, adventure. It will be epic and sweeping... This will show what an incredible badass Harriet Tubman was... There is something to be said about movies that have universal themes that everyone can relate to. Harriet was a hero, a warrior, she was fearless, she was a leader and that has nothing to do with race. She is someone I believe – on a domestic and global level – people are going to relate to.” ~ Charles D. King (MACRO) co-producer and co-financier of the recently-announced Harriet Tubman film, which will be directed by Seith Mann.
King was speaking with Entertainment Weekly magazine last year when he made the above comments, which I assume will be music to many ears - especially those of you who continue to lament so-called "slave movie/TV series fever."
Tubman was certainly all the things that King describes, and maybe this isn't common knowledge. Tubman was a bondwoman who escaped from slavery in the South to become a leading abolitionist before the American Civil War. After she successfully escaped, she returned many times to rescue both family members and non-relatives from the plantation system. She led hundreds to freedom in the North as the most famous "conductor" on the Underground Railroad, earning the nickname “Moses” for her leadership. When the Fugitive Slave Law was passed - a law that stated that escaped slaves from the south could be captured in the North and returned to slavery - Tubman re-routed the Underground Railroad to Canada, which, by then, prohibited slavery categorically. She was active during the Civil War, working for the Union Army, quickly becoming an armed scout and spy. The first woman to lead an armed expedition in the war, she guided the Combahee River Raid, which liberated more than 700 slaves in South Carolina.
And that's just a fraction of her "highlight reel" if you will. Hers was an amazing, active life and I like reading Charles King's plans for the film as "epic and sweeping," emphasizing Tubman's "badass-ness." Of course! So I would expect something thrilling here; uplifting; energizing. An action-adventure as he describes it.
Announced today, Tony award winning actress ("The Color Purpler" on Broadway, last year) Cynthia Erivo has been cast to play Tubman in the Macro/New Balloon feature film. Her name was on a short list of actresses that readers of this blog mentioned as possible stars of the film, so this should make many of you happy. She's also quite perfect for the role.
Producers Debra Martin Chase, Gregory Allen Howard are also involved in the producing of the film, along with Daniela Taplin Lundberg.
Seith Mann will direct from a script penned by Gregory Allen Howard, with an early 2017 production start date expected.
MACRO and New Balloon will co-finance and Executive Produce the very timely project, along with Bill Benenson.
Kristen Konvitz and Charles Pugliese will co-producers.
This is the second Harriet Tubman film in development. Viola Davis will also star in and produce a biopic on the life of Tubman, although for HBO, based on the 2004 book, "Bound for the Promised Land - Harriet Tubman Portrait: of an American Hero," by historian Kate Clifford Larson, which draws from a trove of new documents and sources, as well as extensive genealogical research, to paint a portrait of a complex woman and her passionate pursuit of freedom.
Kirk Ellis is scripting the adaptation, with Doug Ellin and his Halyard Park production company executive-producing, alongside Amblin TV, Cliff Dorfman, as well as Viola Davis and her husband, Julius Tennon, via their JuVee production shingle.
Both projects come on the heels of the US Department of Treasury's announcement that Tubman will become the new face of the $20 bill, relocating the slave-holding former president Andrew Jackson to its rear.
I should mention that Aisha Hinds is also playing Tubman in WGN America's Underground Railroad series "Underground" which returns for a second season next month!
Deadline was first to announce Erivo's casting in MACRO's film.