Washington, D.C. - Harriet is a superhero movie. It may not have the CGI special effects you'll find in the Avengers franchise, but Harriet Tubman, the former slave and abolitionist who brought over nearly 300 fugitive slaves to safety via the Underground Railroad, doesn't need them.
The film took several years to meander its way from concept to silver screen. The crew explained last week that they believe that is due to Hollywood's unpreparedness for their protagonist.
"I think it's only been recently that Hollywood has been ready to accept a female lead in certain movies," director Kasi Lemmons told Townhall. "Not to mention a black female lead. An African-American woman lead. There are not that many."
"Eight years ago Hollywood was not making movies with black women in the lead," producer Debra Martin Chase agreed during the film's red carpet premiere at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. last week. "Certainly not period pieces."
But other films paved the way. While the minds behind Harriet waited, Wonder Woman, Black Panther, and Hidden Figures were big hits at the box office and at awards shows. Those successes, Chase mused, helped Focus Features believe that Hollywood was finally ready for Harriet.
Tubman's story is one we're pretty familiar with. Having escaped from slave owners in the South ahead of the Civil War, Tubman did the unthinkable. She returned to rescue some of her family members, and then hundreds of others. Her feats are even more remarkable when you learn that she didn't know how to read or write.
In the film we learn of another obstacle that Tubman had to face. She suffered a grave head injury as a child after being struck by a slave owner. That brutal blow affected her the rest of her life and often left her dizzy and disoriented. Several of those fainting incidents, according to the film, occurred during her solo trips in the woods.
"In doing her rescues, she was surrounded by bounty hunters and she'd periodically fall unconscious," Lemmons noted.
Yet in her research the director learned that Tubman considered these dizzy spells signs from God.
"These seizures that she felt brought clarity and these incredible premonitions. Tubman believed she was being led by God," Lemmons explained.
Read reviews of Harriet, and you'll find that more than one critic has referred to it as more than a biopic. It is a action hero film.
"I'm so glad people are seeing that and saying that," actor Leslie Odom, Jr. said. He likened Harriet to Pam Grier and Uma Thurman in Kill Bill.
"That is exactly how we approached it," Chase explained. "That she is a historical action heroine. The woman was unbelievable...She was born a slave. She decided 'no, that's not how I'm going to live.' Then went back to save other people. Nobody went back!"
On social media, you'll find several Harriet fans encouraging audience goers to give it as much box office love as they gave Black Panther. Chase would be thrilled with even a sliver of that success.
"Look, from their lips," Chase quipped. "I'll take a fraction! That movie did $1 billion worldwide. I'd love it, but I'll take a fraction of it."
And unlike Black Panther, Harriet is "the real deal."
Actor Vondie Curtis-Hall, who is married to Lemmons, and their son Henry Hunter Hall credited Tubman's spirituality and dedication to her family as the catalyst that allowed this 28-year-old, five-foot woman to perform these miraculous rescues.
"What makes her so special?" Henry asked at the premiere. "I think it was her faith in God. Something bigger than her. It was ethereal. It was inhuman."
To capture even a glimpse of Tubman's struggles, the cast and crew shot some of the escape scenes on rainy, muddy, and cold nights in Virginia. It happened to be one of the wettest winters on record in the state.
"It wasn't always easy, but it gave us a little tiny sliver of a sense of what Harriet must have gone through," Lemmons said. "And what the freedom-seeking slaves went through in following her to freedom."
Remarkably, Tubman lived into her '90s. She is quoted as having once said, "when God is done with me he'll let them take me."
"And yet she lived to be 91, so God wasn't done with her for a long time," Lemmons noted. "She has an incredible force of life and incredible purpose."
Again, superhero status.