Can you believe there’s never been a theatrically released biopic about the life of Harriet Tubman? The closest we’ve gotten was the 1978 made-for-TV movie A Woman Called Moses. But now, two biopics are in the works about the Underground Railroad conductor destined for the U.S.’s $20 bill.
The first will also be for TV, well not TV but HBO. As a producer alongside her husband Julius Tennon, Viola Davis is developing an HBO movie about Tubman, in which the two-time Oscar nominated actress plans to star. Kirk Ellis, who wrote the HBO mini-series John Adams, is on board to pen the currently untitled project, which will be based on Kate Clifford Larson’s book Bound for the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman: Portrait of an American Hero. No word on a director yet, but might we suggest Bessie helmer Dee Rees? (Variety)
As solid as HBO historical dramas are, the big news is Tubman’s tale coming to the big screen. Homeland helmer Seith Mann is set to direct Harriet, which boasts a script from Remember the Titans and Ali scribe Gregory Allen Howard. Remarkably, the director, writer, and producers Debra Martin Chase, the first African American woman to have a solo producing deal at a major studio, and Charles D. King “the first and only African American to rise from the mailroom to partner in the 118-year history of WME” are black. So Harriet shouldn’t be another tone deaf Nina in the making. From here, it’ll be interesting to see who the producers pick to take on this defining role. Share your suggestions in the comments. (Deadline)
It shouldn’t be surprising that Harriet Tubman is finally getting a biopic. For one thing, she’s a historical figure we all know by name, yet don’t know tons about. That’s exactly the kind of draw you want as a producer. And her story is downright amazing. Imagine the tension and human drama that could be explored through not just her own escape to freedom, but then her 19 trips back into hostile Southern territory to free another 300 slaves. In those trips, she broke her biological sisters and brother from their bonds, as well as the husband she’d left behind only to find he’d remarried! And then there’s the whole Union spy angle!
It’s positively bonkers that only sketch comedians have recognized the potential of Tubman’s amazing tale of perseverance, activism, and survival.
Meanwhile, we’ve gotten two biopics about Steve Jobs, two about Truman Capote, and in just the last five years the following biopics about white men overcoming adversity have gotten Best Picture nods: The Big Short, Trumbo, The Revenant, Bridge of Spies, Spotlight, The Theory of Everything, The Imitation Game, American Sniper, The Wolf of Wall Street, Dallas Buyers Club, Captain Phillips, American Hustle, Lincoln, Argo, and Moneyball.
By contrast, here’s all the biopics that weren’t chiefly about white men from that same category: 12 Years A Slave, Philomena, Selma, and Zero Dark Thirty which was loosely based on an actual female CIA agent. That’s it. Not a one of these films was primarily about an historical black woman.
The film industry can do better. And frankly, we deserve better. Not just better representation, but better exposure to the history and stories that define us.
Kristy Puchko isn’t so much an angry feminist as much as an exhausted one.