The most amazing thing about Harriet, aside from Cynthia Erizo’s compelling performance, is that it took this long to get a biopic done. At an exclusive Harriet luncheon at the Toronto Film Festival, director Kasi Lemmons told media that Harriet producer Debra Martin Chase (who worked with Whitney Houston) has had the project in development since the 90’s. Actors Leslie Odom, Jr.,Janelle Monae and Vondie Curtis Hall all play real-life historical characters in the movie, which tracks Harriet’s life from her escape from slavery in Dorchester County, Maryland to Philadelphia and then on to Canada.
Although the movie does makes Harriet seem almost saintly, it appears, from all accounts, that she was. Emmy, Grammy and Tony winner Erivo makes a solid case for an “O” for Oscar to join those awards as she imbues young Harriet with mission and purpose and brings her to life in a way we’ve never seen before. Reviews of the film have suggested that it leans too heavily on Tubman’s spiritual influence, but African-American audiences who are familiar with the concept of an “anointing” on people, will better relate to that concept. What you realize in seeing this movie is that Harriet is not just a Black American story, it’s a uniquely American story. Release: November 1
L-R: Harriet cast members Zackary Momoh, Jennifer Nettles, Omar Dorsey, Cynthia Erivo, Leslie Odom, Jr., Kasi Lemmons and Vondie Curtis-Hall at Toronto International Film Festival.
Just Mercy is an impactful film, if not much different from many Hollywood films of its kind – a heroic, principled figure makes the difference in someone else’s life and is duly celebrated with a movie about how it went down. The difference in Just Mercy is that that man is usually white, and this time, he’s Black. Michael B. Jordan plays the truly heroic real-life lawyer Bryan Stevenson, whose Equal Justice Initiative helped 140 wrongfully accused people gain their freedom. This is the movie version of his 2014 book which details the story of an Alabama man Walter McMillan, who was put on Death Row for murdering a white woman despite attending a fish fry miles away at the time of the murder.
Foxx plays McMillan in what rightfully should generate some Oscar buzz, and Rob Morgan’s character, as detailed above, is a compelling part of the film. In a time where issues of criminal justice and Black people proliferate, Just Mercy should prove to be an affirmation for some parts of the population and an education for others. Release Date: December 25
Waves, starring Sterling K. Brown and Renee Elise Goldsberry and Moonlight’s Kelvin Harrison, Jr. was one of the most talked about movies of the Toronto Film Festival among Black media outlets. It tells the story of a privileged Black family and how they handle their son’s crisis after he suffers a wrestling injury. While there were some mixed reviews, it resonated with others, particularly the depiction of Brown as a father driving his son way too far. It’s an A24 film, which means it will likely land in arthouse theaters, so look out for it. (Scheduling did not allow us to see it at TIFF). Other movies folks were buzzing about France’s Portrait of A Lady On Fire, Uncut Gems with Adam Sandler, Kevin Garnett (yes, the former NBA player and Abel “The Weeknd” Tesfaye, and Knives Out with Daniel Craig, Jamie Lee Curtis and LaKeith Stanfield. Release Date: November 1
He wasn’t there but he did appear in Bryce Dallas Howard’s heartwarming documentary “Dads” where the daughter of Ron Howard posed the joys and trials of fatherhood to a few celebrity and non-celebrity fathers. Will gives one of the best closing lines of any movie we saw at the festival, along with Jennifer Lopez in Hustlers. We won’t ruin it for you, but we agree with both of their statements. The doc was picked up by Apple TV so that’s where you’ll be able to see it. Release Date: TBD
CALLING BLACK DIRECTORS
Out of the major movies with predominantly Black casts including Just Mercy and Dolemite is My Name, only one – Harriet – had a Black director. Hopefully that was just this year and not an ominous sign of the future as more white directors take on traditionally “Black” subjects and stories.
Female directors, though, had a good moment this year, as along with Harriet, both Hustlers (Lorene Scafaria) and A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (Marielle Heller) were directed by women.
PHOTOS: Courtesy of TIFF, Tonya Pendleton
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