She didn’t invent the Underground Railroad, but Harriet Tubman was one its most famous and successful ‘conductors.’ Having escaped from slavery herself, she turned right around and went back to help her family, friends, and more gain freedom. In some 13 different trips, Tubman rescued at least 70 people before the Civil War, saying: “I was 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.”
Only one TV movie has shown Harriet Tubman’s life story, and she’s appeared in a just a few historical TV shows about the Underground Railroad or Civil War. Later this year, she’ll finally get the full theatrical biopic treatment. So let’s celebrate this inspirational woman in her frock flick appearances so far!
Cicely Tyson in A Woman Called Moses (1978)
Tyson delivers a world-class performance as Harriet Tubman during the period of slavery and when she escapes, with a brief mention of her continued activism when the Civil War ended. This two-part TV movie came out a year after the original Roots miniseries first brought a glimpse of chattel slavery to American living rooms.
Octavia Spencer in Drunk History, “Spies” (2015)
Kind of a pity that nearly 40 years passed between on-screen appearances (if there are ones I missed, let me know and share pix!). But at least Drunk History had a fine actor showing Tubman’s role during the Civil War as a nurse, scout, and spy.
Bebe Drake in Another Period, “Lillian Is Dead” (2016)
Yeah, sure, Harriet Tubman would have been alive in the vague 1900s of the Bellacourts and she lived in Auburn, New York, generally in their area. So y’know, kinda working with the actual history there…
Aisha Hinds in Underground (2017)
The second season of this sadly short-lived series very appropriately brought Harriet Tubman into the story that was all about the Underground Railroad. She was an excellent addition into the fictional story, giving it a sense of necessary gravitas.
Christine Horn in Timeless, “The General” (2018)
Kendra admits it’s not her era, but she liked seeing Harriet Tubman being a badass during the Civil War and leading a key slave rebellion (things that actually happened).
Cynthia Erivo in Harriet (2019)
Per IMDB, this feature film is: “Based on the story of iconic freedom fighter Harriet Tubman, her escape from slavery and subsequent missions to free dozens of slaves through the Underground Railroad in the face of growing pre-Civil War adversity.” Costumes will be designed by Paul Tazewell, Tony Award-winner for Hamilton, so there should be plenty to look forward to.
What do you know about Harriet Tubman? Will you see the new movie?