Kasi Lemmons‘ “Harriet” world premiered at Toronto International Film Festival Tuesday evening. The film follows the unforgettable true story of Harriet Tubman (“Widows”‘ Cynthia Erivo) as she escaped from slavery and became one of history’s greatest freedom fighters. Tubman went on to free hundreds of slaves through the Underground Railroad during pre-Civil War. Her story comes to life on screen as the film debuted in Toronto.
Lemmons directs her fifth feature with “Harriet.” She writes the screenplay with Gregory Allen Howard. Lemmon’s past projects include “Black Nativity,” “The Caveman’s Valentine” and the biopic “Talk to Me,” starring Don Cheadle. Lemmons’ directorial debut was with “Eve’s Bayou,” a drama she wrote for Trimark Pictures in 1997. Through the ’80s and ’90s, Lemmons also starred in roles for “Silence of the Lambs,” “Candyman” and “Hard Target.” She directs rising British star Cynthia Erivo in a role audiences are calling “the real deal.” Some attendees are reacting and engaging more with Erivo’s performance rather than the narrative at stake. Others are finding it to be an incredible biopic. The early consensus reads mixed reactions.
Erivo was seen last year in supporting roles in Steve McQueen’s “Widows” and Drew Goddard’s “Bad Times at the El Royale.” She was nominated at the 2019 BAFTAs for the EE Rising Star Award. Also starring in the film with Erivo are Leslie Odom Jr., Janelle Monáe, Joe Alwyn, Jennifer Nettles and Clarke Peters.
Read some of the first audience reactions for Lemmons’ latest out of TIFF:
— J Don Birnam (@jdonbirnam) September 11, 2019
— Jacob Demlow (@DatDemlow) September 11, 2019
I'd like to be the first to say that Henry Hunter Hall is a goddamn star in Harriet, he is so good and charming and steals so many of his scenes! #TIFF19
— Audrey Fox (@audonamission) September 11, 2019
HARRIET: Cynthia Erivo more than proves that she can carry a story and character of this scale — but even that isn’t enough to add rhythm to a bland, conventional biopic. Janelle Monáe continues to be a bright (underused) spark in every project she’s in. #TIFF19 pic.twitter.com/HhYa7Wx6jX
— Jason Carlos (@jaarlos) September 11, 2019
Harriet (2019, Kasi Lemmons)
— wendell chalamet (@RhodeToLove) September 11, 2019
Tho I’m glad that I’ve now watched a biopic about the great historical figure, Harriet Tubman, unfortunately #Harriet #HarrietMovie was generic, badly written, & quite boring.
Harriet’s story deserves a more cinematic & more compelling depiction than this#TIFF2019 #TIFF #TIFF19 pic.twitter.com/0CXDHRDiUU
— Rama’s Screen (@RamasScreen) September 11, 2019
“Harriet” is produced by Martin Chase Productions, New Balloon and Stay Gold Features. It is distributed by Focus Features and releases in theaters November 1. It is also set to screen at Mill Valley Film Festival October 5.