Harriet would have shot Tekashi.
She would have given him grace for his unicorn-colored hair, sympathized with his desire to be a part of a family (no matter how blood-drenched their hands were), perhaps rolled her eyes at his awful lyrical content- but most certainly she would have shot him dead for his lack of respect for mission, legacy, and focus.
More and more, I have come to believe, Harriet to be a real gangsta.
She was about that thug life. Not in the coarse way that you’ve heard condescending politicians wagging their fingers at us in reprimand while using the word, but in the way that Nikki Giovanni cooed as a love ode to Tupac. Harriet had Tupac’s T.H.U.G. L.I.F.E. tattooed on her spirit. It was encased into her swag like honey from a queen bee’s comb. It was stitched into her purpose by God’s divine weaving – bad AF and they don’t teach that in school.
But our courageous sister Kasi, touched by the otherworldliness of God, dares to teach us this with her new film.
The Kasi Lemon directed and written movie, Harriet, reminds us just how expansive this Hip-Hop spirit is by presenting Tubman in a way that makes her digestible.
Too often our heroes from antebellum America are tough to swallow and consume. They are too big. Too massive. Too much like comic book caricatures swooping in and saving the day, with unbelievable abilities to “peacefully protest and changing the minds of their oppressors,” “stand up to a wicked master,” or “Nat Turner them.” In snapshots, it’s hard to contend with their humanity, when the few that we do know have to be three steps below God, and escalators above all of us towards glory.
Lemon’s Harriet wasn’t like that.
Played by Cynthia Erviro, we meet a woman. Beautiful, determined, soft, in love with a man that the film projects as a nobleman. Erivo from the rip invites the audience into Tubman’s world. It is a close enough adaptation and imagining of what it must have been like to be her, to be around her, to hear about her in the mid-1800s.
She was a warrior and a womanist (order can be interchangeable). The movie shows her as deeply spiritual and religious (the two aren’t always reconciled). And they rightly show the motivation behind her trips back to the consternation of slavery- She remembered the terrors of bondage.
Outstanding performances are made by Leslie Odom, who plays William Still and Janelle Monáe as Marie Buchanon.
So why should Hip-Hop come out in full force to see, Harriet? The culture should support because this quality work is on the same vibration as it Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, the girl power of Miseducation of Lauryn Hill and the soul of The Low End Theory and the badassness of Illmatic. Under Lemon’s direction and Erivo’s execution, in this film, you see community joined together by a mission of liberation. Isn’t that what Hip-Hop should be?