Yesterday we had to decide which one-word, proper noun Hollywood movie we would go to see with friends. It was a tough call, but ultimately we decided on Harriet over Judy and Joker.
Harriet tells the story of Harriet Tubman, the legendary woman who escaped slavery and then devoted her life, and risked her own personal freedom, to help other slaves — ultimately, dozens of them — make their way to liberty via the Underground Railroad. Harriet Tubman is an American historical figure whose courage and fortitude should always be remembered, and her story is well worth telling. Harriet does an excellent job of capturing the brutality and inhumanity of the slave-holding system in the Old South, and stage actress Cynthia Erivo gives a brilliant portrayal of the brave, stubborn woman who shed her slave name of “Minty” and blazed her own trail in a crusade for freedom.
Of course, movies can be expected to add their little story-telling flourishes to actual history, and Harriet has its share of familiar Hollywood plot devices. (You can read about some of the liberties taken with the actual historical record here.) But the movie doesn’t shy away from the ugliness of slavery, nor does it give short shrift to Harriet Tubman’s intense religious faith and belief that the seizures she experienced were communications from the Almighty. In fact, you would be hard pressed to identify other recent Hollywood fare where Christian beliefs played such a central role in the story.
Harriet is well worth seeing — and hopefully, it causes young people who might not be familiar with the life and work of Harriet Tubman to learn more about an extraordinary woman who did extraordinary things.
I’m not sorry that Andrew Jackson has been booted off the front of the $20 bill and moved to the back, either. Sure, Old Hickory may have beaten the Brits at the Battle of New Orleans and been a strong proponent of the federal government at the time the southern states first started talking about secession, but he was a slaveholder who “owned” 150 human beings at the time of his death. You can talk all you want about Andrew Jackson being a product of his era and his place, but given his slaveholding past, putting him on the face of one of the most used American bills in this day and age is just wrong. I’d take him off the bill entirely. We can learn about Jackson during history class, but we don’t need to see him every time we are paying for our lunch.
For that matter, I’d like to see the decision to put Harriet Tubman on the twenty start a process of moving away from politicians being the only faces on our currency. I’m as big a fan of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln as anyone, but I’m heartily sick and tired of politicians being the default option for coins, currency, or the names of public buildings. There’s a lot more to America than dead Presidents. How about thinking outside the box, for once, focusing on the richness of American culture, American invention, and American accomplishment, and coming up with some non-political figures to feature on our paper money? I’d rather have Louis Armstrong, Thomas Edison, Marie Curie, young Elvis, Dr. Martin Luther King, Lucille Ball, Dr. Jonas Salk, Diana Ross and the Supremes, and Neil Armstrong in my billfold any day.