Beliefnet
Faith, Media & Culture

Here’s the latest dispatch from the crossroads of faith and media:

Harriet Tubman and film producer Debra Martin Chase are having a moment. The long-awaited film Harriet opened strong in 2,059 theaters nationwide last weekend, pulling in an impressive $12 million over three days and ranking fourth at the domestic box office. That’s significantly higher than the $7.5-$9 million the industry was predicting.  The biopic held up very well against such big-budget fantasy franchises as Terminator: Dark Fate, Joker and Maleficent: Mistress of Evil.  Harriet also received an A+ CinemaScore (measuring moviegoer reactions) and currently has a 98% Audience Score on Rotten Tomatoes with 1,633 verified ratings.

Reflecting on her film’s success, producer Debra Martin Chase says “This is not a slave movie.  This is a movie that says we cannot control the circumstances into which we are born, but we can control what we do once we get here.”

I had the opportunity to chat by phone with Martin – who as the first African-American woman ever to have a production deal at a major studio (first with Disney, now with Universal) – is a bit of a history maker in her own right.

She told me she was drawn to Tubman’s story because it was time that her story really became known to a general audience. I asked her why she thinks it took so long for a movie about such a historic figure whose life was so filled with dramatic tension and heroism to get made. She attributes the long delay to Hollywood simply not being ready to make a period movie about a historic black female heroine.  She credits the success of 2017’s Wonder Woman and 2018’s Black Panther with opening the town’s eyes the box office potential of large-scale heroic stories featuring female and African heroes.

She says she decided early on that the movie would not shy away from presenting Tubman’s strong Christian faith which motivated and sustained her through years of struggle and danger. As to all those positive reviews, including mine, she’s feeling good about them.

While the movie is a rare hit with critics and audiences alike, there was some early criticism regarding the casting of Cynthia Erivo (a British actress of Nigerian descent) in the title role by those who felt the part should have gone to an actual descendant of American slaves. To those critics, Chase offers no regrets – pointing to Erivo’s powerful performance. “She threw herself 500 percent into the role. I first saw her performing in The Color Purple on Broadway and knew then that she was born to play Harriet, just like Denzel was born to play Malcolm X and Sissy Spacek was born to play Loretta Lynn.”

Meanwhile, Stand Up, the film’s anthem (co-written by Joshuah Brian Campbell and Erivo) is also making a lot of positive noise.  Check out Errivo performing the powerful (and very singable) song below.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11