'She's Small Like Me': First Look at Cynthia Erivo as Harriet Tubman

Cynthia Erivo attends the 12th Annual CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute on December 9, 2018 in New York City.
Cynthia Erivo attends the 12th Annual CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute on December 9, 2018 in New York City.
Photo: Mike Coppola (Getty Images for CNN)

As film is a visual medium, it makes sense that buzz heightens once the audience gets a peek at movie stills, photo shoots or other behind-the-scenes photos connected to a film.

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Such is the case with Harriet, an upcoming biographical drama from Focus Features, chronicling the story of Harriet Tubman, who helped free hundreds of slaves in the South following her own successful escape in 1849. The much-anticipated biopic stars Cynthia Erivo as the titular character, as well as Joe Alwyn, Janelle Monae, Jennifer Nettles, and Leslie Odom.

In a series of photos exclusively obtained by People, we get our first glimpse of Erivo as the badass abolitionist.

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“It’s a new way of looking at Harriet,” the 32-year-old actress told People. “She was a hero, and now we get to really tell her story because we haven’t really heard her story. It’s been long overdue.”

As with most actors when preparing for a role, the Tony Award winner focused on their similarities.

“I knew she was small like me,” said Erivo, who is 5 feet, 1 inch tall. “I knew she was 5 foot, or 4'11″. It fascinated me because I realize this woman was extraordinary because she was small and like me in every sense of the word.”

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Erivo also touched on the love Tubman had for husband John Tubman, and her surprise to find out that the end of the Tubman’s relationship was a catalyst for Harriet’s crusade, noting, “it was heartbreak that got her on the road to doing all the good things that she did.”

“I don’t think she set out to be a superhero,” noted Erivo. “I think she just set out to do the right thing.”

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Upon hearing of the casting announcement, some members of the black community were disappointed by the fact that the role wasn’t given to an African-American woman, particularly a descendant of American slaves.

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“People speak of foreign privilege and truthfully life would be unbelievably easy if that were applied to me but that is not my portion. I fought for the role of Celie, and spilled blood sweat and tears playing her, the same applies for every role I’ve earned, this will be no different,” Erivo noted in September, adding, “I cannot tell how protective I am of this woman and her story.”

Harriet premieres later this year.

Staff Writer, Entertainment at The Root. Sugar, spice & everything rice. Equipped with the uncanny ability to make a Disney reference and a double entendre in the same sentence.

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DISCUSSION

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SheeshTheseNames

The issue with a non-American playing Harriet Tubman and important figures like her isn’t simply that she’s non-American. It’s twofold: 1) Like many non-American Blacks, she actively looks down on Black Americans. We cannot ignore that. 2) Since most people, even other Black Americans, fall for the fiction that every other kind of Black person is “better,” we are being shut out of acting roles more and more often. We are thought not good enough and not trained enough to even play ourselves; Americans think anyone with a British accent is automatically talented and cultured and has more acting training than an American possibly could, no matter the factual credentials of the Americans they’re comparing to. I’m being blunt when I say that this bullshit is starting to piss me off.