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About The Production
HARRIET was filmed entirely on location in Virginia during an uncharacteristically wet fall of 2018, which required the cast and crew to work through grueling conditions-many sequences were shot in the woods with the actors and filmmakers having to contend with rain and wind, mud and insects. But a sense of purpose helped lessen the discomfort, according to producer Debra Martin Chase. "I can't tell you how many times I overheard conversations where the crew was saying, 'But you know, Harriet went through this, and Harriet didn't have electricity, and Harriet was in the dark of night, and Harriet didn't have food, or shoes, or a coat. So, I can do this,'" Chase says. "Her spirit really became part of this movie."

The practical locations were vital, however, in terms of giving the production a feeling of authenticity that it simply wouldn't have had otherwise. "The look of the film is very naturalistic," says Oscar-winning cinematographer John Toll (Braveheart, Legends of the Fall). "We wanted to take advantage of the look and feel of the actual locations and the type of landscape and geography where Harriet actually existed."

Weeks before filming began, production designer Warren Alan Young, who previously worked with Lemmons on her 1960s-set drama Talk to Me, embarked on a period of extensive research, consulting with various historians in order to be able to paint an accurate image of the world as it was during Tubman's life. "I wanted to understand the environment and all the details as clearly as possible so that everything we're putting forth really represents what Harriet and the others would have encountered, what they would have seen and smelled," Young says.

Once the shoot began, the production visited various historic sites around Virginia including the Berkeley Plantation and the 1726 Georgian mansion in Charles City County, birthplace of Presidents Benjamin and William Henry Harrison. Properties on the National Historic Landmark site served as both the Brodess Plantation and the home of New York governor and senator William Seward, who invites Harriet into his Auburn, New York home along with other prominent abolitionists including Frederick Douglass for a meeting in 1851.

Young's team constructed ramshackle slave quarters in proximity to the home used as the Brodess family dwelling and made temporary alterations to the main house itself so that it would appear in keeping with the period. "We just had to peel back some of the modernization from the home and hide some things here and there," Young says. "But it was a challenging set and location because of the acreage involved and wanting to see as far as you can see and portray as much as possible. We planted gardens behind the slave quarters-which slaves were often allowed to do to supplement the meager food that was allowed them by the slave owners."

When it came to outfitting the quarters themselves, Young returned to his reams of photographic research to recreate the living conditions as accurately as possible. "The tools they had, the baskets, the furniture-all were made to the exact specifications as what would have been found in slave quarters in Maryland at that time," Young says. "We have a large amount of photo evidence to refer back to as that was the beginning of the age of photography. We benefitted from that and from paintings and illustrations as well.

"We were able to find a lot of furniture, bowls and serving ware that was original and in good shape," Young continues. "We had some of our textiles made, but we would find as best we could fabrics that researchers told us would have been used at that time for window treatments and things. We even built the mattresses for the slaves' quarters based on research that allowed us to understand what the mattresses would look and feel like. The amount of research that's been done not just on Harriet's world but the world of slavery over these last 10 years has been phenomenal, so the visual truth of what existed and what life was like then is becoming more and more clear."

For the crops and other plantings seen on screen, the production designer researched what sorts of trees, plants and shrubs would have been growing in the region during the 1800s and worked with a local farmer to make sure the film would be able to visually capture the crops that would have been growing on the Brodess property when Harriet lived there.

"We were there very near the end of the corn harvest, but the farmer whose fields surround the house agreed to leave some crops unharvested long enough for us to see them," Young says. "The other challenge was the way crops are harvested today-either with farmers driving combines or it's completely automated-there's a very manufactured look that's left behind once the crops have been harvested. When corn or any other crop is hand-picked, there's a different look to the field afterwards. The same farmer agreed to use a method of harvesting that would allow us to have the correct look the farm where we filmed."

Once Harriet leaves the plantation behind and arrives in Pennsylvania, the production moved to Petersburg, Virginia. The brick buildings that line the downtown core were used for the busy city streets of Philadelphia, home of the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society and the rooming house run by Marie Buchanon-using the same Colonial era building for both of those locations.

"It's a historic place and somehow they've been able to maintain and preserve a lot of their original architecture," Young says of Petersburg. "In the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society, we had an actual printing press that you see William using when Harriet first comes in. It was made for use around that time, and it weighed about 800 pounds. We found a group of people who were historical printers and preservationists for the equipment, and we rented this old printing press that was in excellent working condition from them. Many of the documents on that wall we printed on that press. It all goes toward creating that authenticity."

Authenticity was just as important to costume designer Paul Tazewell, who was familiar with telling important stories about American history, having designed the costumes for Lin Manuel Miranda's Broadway sensation Hamilton. Before the production began, Tazewell undertook a great deal of research and rooted his designs in history to the greatest degree possible.

"If you're dealing with an actual person who lived and breathed, it's very important to create a world that is believable," Tazewell says. "Thankfully, the period that Harriet lived in is documented by a lot of photography. The Daguerreotypes of the period are quite amazing. The eyes in those faces and the humanity that resonates out of them, I think that's where I get my inspiration because my work is based in character, developing different types of characters and making those feel as real as possible. There are reams and reams of photographs that we work from."

In addition to renting or borrowing some period costume, Tazewell created garments inspired by those photographs, which were broken down through repeated washings or by scrubbing them with sandpaper and other abrasive agents to give the costumes a worn, aged look. Other costumes were dyed and painted to make them look more stained or sun-bleached. "The grounds that we were using for the farm or for the plantation had a very specific color of dirt, so the way that we were distressing the clothes needs to jive with what that color is," Tazewell says.

Dressing as Harriet helped actress Cynthia Erivo uncover new sides of the character to fully inhabit the role. "She has nothing, and she goes through a huge journey and her clothing breaks down completely, almost to the point that it's falling off," the actress says. "Then she recreates herself as this super human woman. It was more about an emotional feel for who she had become and how she had realized herself. It's this pastiche of clothing pieces that all put together makes her into this bad-ass woman.

"These costumes with the full skirts and the corsets and all of that-running with a corset, riding a horse with a corset is an interesting thing to be a part of-it gives me this extra sense of strength and power," Erivo continues. "I loved that with every new costume comes this extra part of her that you wouldn't see unless she was in the clothing. Every time you put something new on, it's like, oh, this is a different part of her. How would she move in this? How would she feel in this?"

Janelle Monae, too, praised Tazewell's designs as aiding her in finding a way to connect with her character and the world she inhabits. "These costumes have helped me immensely," says Monae. "To really get into the corsets and the fabrics, they're so beautiful. As soon as I put the outfit on, I feel like Marie instantly. I'm taken into the 1800s. I love costumes, world building. I love the details in the fabric, the hair, the stains in the clothes, the vintage pieces. It all puts me in the world, and it makes me feel like I'm honoring these characters in the best possible way."

Hair and makeup were also key to recreating how the 19th century characters would have looked. Lemmons and Erivo worked closely not only with Tazewell but also with the makeup and hair department leads Angie Wells (Mudbound) and Belinda Anderson ("Luke Cage") to determine the best way to capture Harriet's features. "We all came together to find out what Harriet's visual language is," Erivo says. "I have no eye makeup on, which is one of the most refreshing things ever. We had to determine, how far do we take the scar that she has?

The scar is a remnant of the head injury Harriet suffered in adolescence, and Wells and Lemmons had several conversations about where the scar should be positioned on Harriet's face. "Kasi had a photograph of a bust that had been done of Harriet Tubman that had a sort of a dent on her forehead," Wells says. "We took a little bit of creative license because Harriet did have a head injury, but nobody could really see where it was. Kasi decided that we should put it between her eyebrows, so we had created a transfer based on that photograph and have been using that as our scar."

Says Lemmons: "To me, HARRIET is a story of tenacity and human courage and strength and purpose and drive. Harriet had this incredible integrity. People that wrote about her contemporaneously talked about her humanity and her warmth. To get all that in this woman, to see what's behind her magnificent face, this wonderful scowl that she has-in so many pictures she's got a seriousness of a life lived-we get to show how she got to be this person and witness this transformation of this woman into a real hero."

To help showcase that transformation through music, Lemmons turned to creative collaborator Terence Blanchard, the six-time Grammy Award-winning trumpeter and Oscar-nominated composer who wrote the score for HARRIET. Their professional relationship dates to Lemmons' acclaimed feature film debut Eve's Bayou. "Kasi wanted music that would have beauty, harmony, strength and gentleness," Blanchard says. "She also knew there had to be a fine balance of everything, nothing could be too sweet or too masculine. My approach was to first think about how powerful Harriet Tubman must have been and at the same time, remind myself of how petite she was. I wanted to create a theme that would have strong harmonic content with a beautiful melody. Both things would exemplify the duality of her existence, the strength of her character and the grace by which she conducted herself."

Lemmons flew to New Orleans to sit with Blanchard in his studio as he wrote music for the score; Blanchard wanted the music for the film to transcend time and place, though the period in which the story takes place did have some bearing on the artistic choices he made. "I spent time finding the balance between the ethnic sound of the drums, matched with the vast colors of a full orchestra," the composer says, adding that he was careful to underscore the story's triumphant tone. "This isn't a slave story. It's the story of a heroine whose heart and bravery went well beyond the boundaries of oppression, the story of a person moved and called to action."


Just as it's captured on screen through story and performance, Harriet Tubman's spirit is also expressed in the film through music and song. HARRIET features the original composition "Stand Up," co-written by Joshuah Campbell and the film's star Cynthia Erivo, who also lends her voice to the inspirational closing track. "Having played Harriet, there was a deeper knowledge of what she had been through so I was able to use that knowledge and emotion in creating the song," Erivo says.

Songwriter and musician Campbell came to the attention of the filmmakers after a 2018 performance of his song "Sing Out/March On" at the Harvard University commencement ceremony went viral. Currently a second-year Master of Divinity student at New York's Union Theological Seminary, Campbell composed "Sing Out/March On" in response to the Black Lives Matter movement after participating in several of the group's political actions. The performance at Harvard, which he attended as an undergraduate, was in honor of Congressman and civil rights hero John Lewis. When the call came to work on HARRIET, Campbell was excited to help pay tribute to Tubman as he shares a special connection to the activist: Like Tubman, he belongs to the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. "There was a lot of what I understand as divine order," Campbell says of being invited to contribute to telling the icon's story. "Stand Up" came together quickly. After initially sketching out ideas for the song, he recorded a demo version with collaborators Gabe Fox-Peck and Aric Flemming in Boston, before traveling to New York to meet with Erivo. Together, Campbell and the HARRIET star-a Grammy-winning vocalist whose 2016 album Cynthia Erivo & Oliver Tompsett Sing Scott Alan debuted to considerable acclaim-shaped the song that "Stand Up" would become. With its deep emotional pull, the track is informed by the rousing traditions of gospel, soul, and spirituals, with jazz folk, and country influences as well. "Cynthia and I, along with her producer, had a writing session where we talked about making the lyrics and the piece in general honest to Cynthia as its performer, and I think we accomplished that," Campbell says. "We did shift the key up, and Cynthia added some modulations that gave the piece the lift she wanted. Cynthia rewrote the bridge beautifully, making it honest to the story of the film, and made some other changes that make the piece her own."

"Working with Joshuah was a lovely experience," Erivo says. "He's an incredibly talented young man. Still in seminary school with a beautiful talent for music, he was thrown into the deep end and really delivered. Being able to share my knowledge and put our heads together to find what was right was really special."

Once Campbell finally had the opportunity to see the finished film, he was struck by how closely the themes of lyrics he penned with Erivo dovetailed with the themes of the story. "It's my opinion that songs know how to write themselves," Campbell says. "I think the song dictated to us that its job was to tell a story about a woman who inspires many people, most primarily those women and others who fight for black liberation. It was certainly important that the song capture the spirit of the film, but of supreme importance-above all else-was that the song honor the spirit of Harriet, the woman."

Erivo describes "Stand Up" as "a song full of emotion and a story of tenacity," adding, "I loved performing it; it has a piece of my heart in it. That's the only way I know how to sing. To be honest, it was really important to me to be able to be part of the creation of the song because it feels like another way to pay tribute to Harriet and to thank her."


OF the many emotional scenes in HARRIET, the moment she crossed over from Maryland into the free territory of Pennsylvania is one of the most uplifting. Overcoming incredible odds, the heroine charts a new life for herself to be lived on her own terms. Shooting the sequence was especially memorable for the production-not only because of the powerful subject matter, but also because the day's shoot initially did not go according to plan.

"You get to the part in any production where things are going badly," Lemmons says. "That day, we drove to work in the pouring rain. It had been raining for hours, and the ground was really muddy. We had this scene that takes place at the crest of a hill where Harriet walks into freedom. It was our last day in this location, so we're rushing through the work to try to get to the top of the hill to try and find light, which seems impossible. We get to the top of the hill, and there are these blue clouds everywhere.

"The sky cleared, and the setting sun started to come through these clouds and created this wonderful pink and orange reflective glow with beams of light shining through the clouds," Lemmons continues. "We called 'Action,' and as Harriet walks into freedom, the sun bursts through the clouds and created the most beautiful lens flare I've ever seen. It made us all very emotional. It was like the clouds parted for Harriet's walk into freedom. You felt that you were experiencing something singular. "We shot it a couple of times, and every take was gorgeous," Lemmons concludes. "Then we turned around and there was a double rainbow behind us. We waited all day for this shot, and it seemed so impossible. And then God smiled."

That moment, the filmmakers say, is emblematic of the larger aims of the project-reminding audiences of the incredible life of a remarkable woman and inspiring viewers to believe that they, too, can affect positive change in the world. Says Daniela Taplin Lundberg: "Honestly, we as the filmmakers feel like if we can do anything, it's to tell a story of hope and the triumph of the human spirit. Harriet Tubman is someone who transcended so many stereotypes and assumptions. She was an ordinary person who accomplished the unbelievable. I want to remind our daughters, our sons, our families when they come and see this film that anything is possible."


Although HARRIET was years in the making, the release of the film couldn't come at a more appropriate moment with Tubman herself finally beginning to receive the widespread recognition she so richly deserves: She's come to the forefront of the cultural conversation as a shining example of courage and resourcefulness in the face of overwhelming adversity.

To celebrate her incalculable contributions to American life, Tubman had been selected by the U.S. Treasury to become the first person of color to be represented on any of the nation's currency. In April 2016 during President Obama's Administration, former Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew announced that Tubman would replace President Andrew Jackson on the front of the $20 bill, following a 10-month process in which the department sought input from the public.

"The decision to put Harriet Tubman on the new $20 was driven by thousands of responses we received from Americans young and old," Lew said at the time. "I have been particularly struck by the many comments and reactions from children for whom Harriet Tubman is not just a historical figure, but a role model for leadership and participation in our democracy."

While the unveiling of the Tubman $20 bill had been timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote, it was announced in June 2019 by current Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin that it has been pushed back; the Tubman $20 is now set to debut in 2028.

Tubman also was at the center of the news cycle earlier this year after a photo of a three-year-old girl interacting with a mural of the legendary freedom fighter went viral. Painted on the side wall of the Harriet Tubman Museum & Education Center in downtown Cambridge, Maryland-just a few miles from where Tubman grew up-the 14' X 28' mural features Tubman offering an outstretched hand, inviting every person to accompany her on a journey toward freedom.

Muralist Michael Rosato painted the image, which was commissioned by the Dorchester Center for the Arts and began attracting attention from around the country as soon as it was completed in May 2019. The artist told CNN he wanted to capture "that moment when an enslaved person has to trust her to take their hand to freedom." Social media helped bring attention to Rosato's powerful portrait of Tubman and to the work of the museum, which has been run by local volunteers seeking to preserve Tubman's legacy since the 1980s through education and outreach.

In March 2017, the Maryland Park Service and Maryland government opened the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park & Visitor Center in Churck Creek, Maryland located in the heart of the Choptank River Region where Harriet grew up and first fled to the north on her self emancipation to celebrate Tubman's live and legacy. It's a 17-acre facility that has already been visited by nearly 200,000 guests from all 50 states and over 60 countries. The National Park Service has now established two National historical parks in Tubman's honor - The Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park & Visitor Center in Maryland, and the Harriet Tubman National Historical Park in Auburn, NY. Tubman is the only U.S. woman to be honored with two parks.

Says Debra Martin Chase: "I just think people want inspiration and that's what Harriet's story is-that we can all make a difference. Where there's hope, there's the opportunity to change. We need to feel good about what's possible, and we have to remember what's happened before to be able to deal with the present and to move forward."

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