Dr. Boyce Watkins Reviews The Harriet Tubman Movie

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Written by Ann Brown
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Is there an underlying negative message about Black men in the film “Harriet”? Yes, says scholar, author, economist, and social commentator Boyce Watkins. Director Kasi Lemmons arrives at the Los Angeles premiere of “Harriet” at the Orpheum Theatre on Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2019. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

Is there an underlying negative message about Black men in the film “Harriet”? Yes, says scholar, author, economist, and social commentator Boyce Watkins. And others agree with him.

There were doubts that the feature film about the life of freedom fighter and abolitionist Harriet Tubman would draw in moviegoers, but “Harriet” has proved the doubters wrong. The film, starring Cynthia Erivoas as the heroic Underground Railroad conductor and directed by Kasi Lemmons, scored $12 million its opening weekend, from 2,059 theaters.

Listen to GHOGH with Jamarlin Martin | Episode 16: Boyce Watkins Jamarlin Martin talks to Dr. Boyce Watkins, founder and CEO of Watkins Media Group, about Black self-determination and Kanye West bangin’ for MAGA. They also revisit Bill Cosby’s “Pound Cake” speech, and whether he received a fair trial.

The Focus Features biopic had the 13th-best opening ever for Focus.

“Audiences have been unanimous for their love of this film, which is clear from its A+ CinemaScore and 98 percent audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes,” Focus distribution president Lisa Bunnell told The Hollywood Reporter. “With the story of one woman’s strength that literally changed the world we all live in today, it is the feel-great movie people are looking for — becoming an event for friends and families going to see together.”

“African-Americans made up 49 percent of ticket buyers, followed by Caucasians (36 percent), Hispanics (8 percent) and Asian/other (7 percent), according to PostTrak. Nearly 60 percent of the audience was 35 and older, including almost 40 percent over 45,” The Hollywood Reporter reported.

Still, there had been a lot of negativity swirling around the movie even before the film hit theaters. 

“Using the #NotMyHarriet hashtag, Twitter users have also criticized Lemmons for some of the liberties she took with historical facts. Most notably, the antagonist in ‘Harriet,’ Bigger Long (Omar J. Dorsey), is a ruthless and despicable bounty hunter. He is a Black man and works alongside the son of Tubman’s enslaver, Gideon Brodess (Joe Alwyn), to capture Tubman. Long’s violence is only directed towards Black women in the film. Many on Twitter did not believe a slave bounty hunter could be Black,” The Conversation reported.

But according to USA Today’s fact check with ‘Harriet’ historical consultant Kate Clifford Larson and Lemmons, there had been Black bounty hunters, though they were “much fewer” in numbers than white slave hunters.

The creation of the character Bigger Long also angered Dr. Watkins, who said he had gone into the there with an open mind but was more than disappointed in what he saw on the screen. 

“I saw the movie because I wanted to save the Black community two million dollars in not seeing the film,” he said on his “Your Black World” YouTube show.

Needless to say, he was not impressed. “The movie was not just terrible, it was more terrible than I thought it would be…I felt I had to go home and wash my eyes out with soap…I was traumatized about how much buffoonery they put in that film,” says Watkins.

Watkins said he feels the film showed Black men in a bad and unfair light, especially with the Bigger Long role.

Why can’t we celebrate a great woman like Harriet Tubman without making shit up, without making the Black man look like a complete bastard?” asked Watkins. “Let’s take a slave movie and make slavery Black people’s fault. Harriet couldn’t get free because of a Black man…he was like Suge Knight meets Ike Turner.”