Black History Fun Fact Friday: What Hollywood Left out the Harriet Movie

I did not intend on writing about this today but then…

I saw the Harriet movie.

Yep. I went to see it.

I know many are protesting the film, but I don’t jump on bandwagons. I wanted to see it for myself to develop my own opinion. I also knew I wanted to write about it.

There are some truths (such as her being referred to as Moses). Unfortunately, there are more inaccuracies than truth. The movie is Hollywoodish and leaves a lot out. This is a problem because there’s so much information out in 2019 that if Hollywood wanted to, it could tell this story with 100% fact. (I heard in an interview; the script was written 20 years ago). If you are planning to see it, here are some things you may want to know:

  • Harriet Tubman never had a friend named Marie Buchanon.
  • There was never a Black Bounty Hunter named Bigger Long after Harriet Tubman. The same is true of the Brodesses son. They did have a son (Jonathan) but little is known about him. His role in the movie is made up.

While “Bigger Long,” is a fictional character, it shouldn’t be overlooked that Black trackers existed and were active during slavery. I think it is important that as we are striving for Historical Accuracy we don’t miss that. We cannot be so “Pro-Black” that we forget that a lot of our own people sold us out (and continue to sell us out).

While Bigger Long may not have been a real person in Harriet’s life, there were black slave catchers. Sometimes your biggest enemy is your own brother. It is just that in Harriet’s case, this wasn’t the case.

There is no historical record for a Black Bounty Hunter after Harriet Tubman. The movie, it seemed to me, had a lot of ‘women vs. men’ undertones to it. Not only was Bigger Long the sole antagonist against Harriet (even more so than the Brodesses son), he was also the one responsible for the death of one of the Black women in the film in the most diabolical, sinister, and brutal way.

The William Still character (based on a real historical figure he was a Black abolitionist based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, businessman, writer, and conductor on the Underground Railroad) was over-the-top with his reactions to Harriet’s return from the missions. Holding his hand to his chest, spinning Harriet around, and at one point he even falls out of a chair. Some people laughed but I didn’t find it funny. It looks like bufoonery.

The imaginative Marie, however, shows Harriet how to shoot a gun and helps her in her cause. Harriet was a warrior but I am certain the surrounding men weren’t that simple-minded and faithless.

The Black men in this movie seemed weak to me. I worry this was intentional.

  • Tubman didn’t change her name when she reached freedom. She changed it before then, around the time of her marriage, possibly to honor her mother.
  • Three of Tubman’s sisters were sold, not just one.

 

  • Two of Tubman’s brothers, Ben and Harry, accompanied her (1) they went with her initially, at the onset of her escape not later as depicted in the film (2) after a notice was published in the Cambridge Democrat offering a reward for her return Harry and Ben had second thoughts and returned to the plantation so she made the voyage alone.

 

  • Tubman had spells, dream-states, and visions (I believe she was deeply spiritual, her spells were my inspiration for Nora’s spells in Renaissance), but she also endured seizures, severe headaches, and narcoleptic episodes for the rest of her life from the hit to the head.

This next point wasn’t in the movie but since we are talking about Harriet Tubman I think it’s important to mention.

The Fake Quote:

Yea, you know the one. I have said it. You have said it. We have all repeated it. It’s a good quote. Powerful one too and I wish I could say it belonged to Harriet but with every source I checked there’s no documented, historical proof that Harriet Tubman ever said:

“I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.”

According to Africacheck.org, there are a few possible origins of the quote’s attribution to Harriet:

  • The confusion began when feminist writer Robin Morgan updated her 1970 essay “Goodbye to All That” during the 2008 US Democratic Party’s primary presidential candidate race between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Morgan supported Clinton, and in the essay challenged other women who did not. She wrote: “Let a statement by the magnificent Harriet Tubman stand as reply. When asked how she managed to save hundreds of enslaved African Americans via the Underground Railroad during the Civil War, she replied bitterly, ‘I could have saved thousands – if only I’d been able to convince them they were slaves.’” The implication was that women who didn’t support Clinton were similarly enslaved, and didn’t know it.

 

  • One expert was Milton Sernett, professor emeritus of history and African American studies at Maxwell School“My impression is that this is a late 20th century quote from a fictionalised account of Tubman’s life,” Sernett told history blogger Ralph Luker, who first queried the quote.

 

  • More than this, at meetings in 1858 and 1859 Tubman repeatedly said she had personally rescued 50 to 60 people from slavery. So she would never have said she “freed a thousand slaves”.

A quote that has historical proof, and that has been proven to come from her that you can use:

“I was the conductor of the Underground Railroad for eight years, and I can say what most conductors can’t say — I never ran my train off the track and I never lost a passenger.” 

– Harriet Tubman at a suffrage convention, NY, 1896.

A few more things not addressed in the movie:

Tubman’s time as a Union spy (touched on a little at the end of the film), nurse, and cook, her 1869 marriage to Nelson Davis—a soldier, some 20 years her junior—and the couple’s 1874 adoption of a baby girl named Gertie, her work as a suffragist, neurosurgery undertaken to address her decades-old brain injury, financial hardship later in life, and the opening of the Harriet Tubman Home for the Elderly in 1908.

The movie wasn’t a total fail for me because there are some things I liked that are worth mentioning.

I loved the show of Harriet’s spirituality, which I do not equate to anything Christian. Her reliance on her faith, praying and praising during difficult times and raising her palms to the sky to pray (this is how we did it…our hands weren’t clapped together they were open and raised into the air) was a beautiful show of faith and her belief that the Almighty was central in guiding her in her journey’s.

As I’ve said, I don’t jump on bandwagons. I have my own opinion.

So, should you see the film? That is up to you. I will caution that if you plan to bring your children, print this post out (or another fact sheet you’ve vetted) and use it as a reference so they can properly discern the facts in the movie from the fiction.


Check out more Black History Fun Facts here.

Talking Movies: The Hate You Give

Great breakdown. I have some of the same thoughts. Love the book, not too crazy about the movie. It was just okay in my view as well.

jhohadli

I mostly talk books and writing on this site, but if you’ve followed the site, you know that I’m just a lover of the arts, period, and have opinions on things (not just art). I’ve talked movies here before – Rozanne Roxanne and Annihilation, Room and other movies, Suffragette, Queen of Katwe, Bazodee, Creed, Birdman and Foxcatcher, Spotlight, and others. So, let’s talk, The Hate U Give – for my review of the book, click this link; now on to my review of the film.

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The Hate U Give continues the grand tradition of the book – however imperfect – being better than the movie. Yes, there are exceptions but the generalization exists for a reason. It’s inevitable perhaps that something of the nuance of a story stands to be lost in the translation from page to film.

In the Hate…

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5 Lessons I Learned from the Movie American Gangster

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American Gangster is based on the true story of real-life drug kingpin Frank Lucas, who by the 1960s constructed an international drug ring that spanned from New York to South East Asia. The film features Denzel Washington as Lucas and a New York City cop (Russell Crowe) who busted a big-time heroin ring. I have a love-hate relationship with this movie. In no way do I condone selling drugs and yet I will still watch this movie. There’s a little angel on my shoulder, shaking her head in disgust and a little devil smirking at me as we both smile while watching Denzel’s swag.

I’ve been a bad girl

So anyway, I was watching American Gangster last week, and I started typing away at the notepad on my phone. Somehow, I had managed to think about writing. These days, I watch movies to see if they are written well, educational, and entertaining. Eventually, I had come up with a list of things I learned, and I thought I’d share it with you.

Lesson #1: Influence

“I want what you got Uncle Frank. I wanna be you.”

One of the most powerful aspects of this movie is the message on Influence. Social influence occurs when someone’s emotions, opinions, or behaviors are affected by others. In the film, Frank’s nephew Stevie Lucas is an excellent baseball player and had been playing since he was a child. Now at the prominent financial level to do so, Frank schedules a meeting for his nephew Stevie (T.I.) with the Dodgers. Stevie does not show up. Now that he was part of his Uncle’s drug enterprise, he no longer had a desire to play ball. Instead, Stevie wants to be a drug kingpin like Frank. This scene is one of the saddest parts of the movie for me when Stevie Lucas says he doesn’t want to play baseball anymore, although that was his passion since childhood. Instead, he wanted to be a drug dealer.

This scene is a reminder that you are not just living for yourself. The decisions you make and the opinions you give do not only belong to you but can influence the people around you. We don’t have to be celebrities or someone great to have influence. Somewhere, in our little corner of the world, someone is listening to us and silently taking our advice. People are watching you whether you know it or not and whether they speak up about it or not. The danger in this is that people will follow your example. Sadly, even when you’re wrong if they admire you enough.

Lesson #2: Follow Your Own Advice

“The loudest one in the room is the weakest one in the room.”

Frank said this to Huey Lucas, his brother, after seeing him hanging out with Nicky Barnes, “one of the biggest heroin dealers in the country,” a 1977 New York Times Magazine article titled “Mister Untouchable” stated. Nicky is known as being arrogant and living an extravagant lifestyle. In the movie, Huey had taken on Nicky’s colorful way of dress and his arrogant demeanor.

There is so much to learn from this quote alone. It goes hand in hand with the phrase, “the more you talk, the less you know.” Usually, it’s the people who are the weakest who makes the most noise.

Frank then turned around and wore an expensive fur, bought by his wife, to the Ali/Fraizer fight–the same “clown suit” he warned his brother not to wear–and stuck out like a sore thumb. This fur is what made the police take notice of him and pay attention to him. From this one mistake, they learned of Franks every move.

The message here is for one to remember to take their own advice, which is not always easy to do if a person is not paying attention. I am sure we all have an instance to which we forgot to take our own advice.

Lesson #3: The Love of Money

“Success has enemies…quitting while you are ahead is not the same as quitting.”

All any black man wants to do is take care of his family, but Frank had a significant role in the direction of his brother’s life. He didn’t have to travel to North Carolina and recruit them in his drug empire. His brothers and cousins were country boys, and while each is entitled to one’s own choices and decisions (his brothers could have decided not to participate after discovering what the business was about), Frank is responsible for his part in taking advantage of his brother’s innocence. Frank was the oldest (if the movie is correct in this portrayal) and they looked up to him. He could have used his influence more positively. Even his mother in the film said: “If you were a preacher they would have all been preachers.” This example goes back to lesson number one. We all have people who watch us and look up to us even if we don’t know it. Frank could have used his money to invest in legit companies for his brothers, leaving them out of the drug business.

Lesson #4: The Business Mind

“Nobody owns me though. That’s ’cause I own my own company and my company sells a product that’s better than the competition, at a price that’s lower than the competition.”

There’s a lot to learn about business in this movie. Even though the market here is, unfortunately, selling drugs, I believe you can get a lesson from anything if you’re paying enough attention to it. One of Frank’s many experiences had to do with launching a new product that was cheap but still held quality. Frank stepped outside of the established heroin supply chain by cutting out the middleman and not diluting the heroine. In the 1970s, the heroine was often diluted with sugars, chalk, flour, or powdered milk to stretch it, so ddicts understood that the drug would have a lower potency. To create his one-of-a-kind “product,” Frank went directly to the source, a heroin producer in Saigon, Vietnam. In the movie, Frank didn’t dilute his heroin, which made it more potent. He also sold the undiluted, more potent drug at a lower price.

The lesson here is that sometimes you have to step outside of your comfort circles to reach new levels. If broke people surround you, then you will more than likely be broke too. If people with no vision surround you, then all you will ever do is have a dream. If you want to reach new levels, you have to surround yourself with people who are where you want to be. Want to publish a book? Want to understand how it’s done? Then surround yourself with people who are doing it right and take advice from people who have made it to where you want to be. This same thing applies to any business.

Lesson #5: Not Everything is as it Seems

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The final and most important lesson is not to believe everything that you see. Much of this movie is made up by Hollywood. Denzel Washington is a more smooth and exaggerated version of the real Frank Lucas (and in some ways, we all kinda wish the real Frank was a lot more like Denzel). The real Frank Lucas was not Bumpy Johnson’s driver for 15 years, and he was not with Bumpy when he died. The real Frank Lucas did dilute his heroin, though not as much as the other dealers. The real Frank Lucas did collect numerous mink and chinchillas aside from the one his wife bought him, and the real Frank Lucas is mentioned as being just as “flashy” as Nicky Barnes. The real Frank Lucas is also rumored to have been illiterate.

The persona of the copy, Richie Roberts, was also exaggerated in the movie. He did not have a child and was not in a custody battle with his ex-wife. He also had a much smaller role in the capturing of Frank Lucas.

The lesson here is to remember to do your research. Don’t just believe the movies you watch, the articles/books you read, or the things that you see on social media. Even salt looks like sugar, and spoiled milk is still white. Always double-check your facts.


Sources:

http://brandautopsy.com/

http://www.historyvshollywood.com/reelfaces/americangangster.php

https://www.biography.com/people/frank-lucas-253710

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Lucas_(drug_dealer)

http://www.complex.com/style/2013/01/the-10-most-stylish-drug-kingpins-of-all-time/khun-sa

Heroin: From the Civil War to the 70s, and Beyond