“Harriet” filmed in Mathews County!
A biopic, coming soon, made its way to William’s Wharf and Mathews Land Conservancy to shoot a scene for the upcoming feature film, “Harriet,” telling the story of heroic abolitionist, Harriet Tubman. On October 30th and 31st, around 350 cast, film crew, and extras set up camp down William’s Wharf Road for a two day film production. The scene took place on Yorktown’s home-ported Schooner Alliance on the mooring docks right off the East River.
The feature film covers the life and legacy of 19th century abolitionist Harriet Tubman, who was born into slavery, escaped to Philadelphia, and later escorted more than 300 slaves to freedom though the network and secret routes of the Underground Railroad. The docks and wharf of the Land Conservancy were transformed for a scene to portray 19th century Philadelphia.
We were lucky to get a behind-the-scenes sneak peak of the film and watch as hundreds of extras, cast and crew scrambled around in the busy energy of this exciting production. We were even fortunate to see some of the big time actresses, actors and directors up close! Some of the cast and crew even explored, dined and lodged in Mathews and Gloucester Counties after wrapping up scenes.
Cast and Crew
The film is directed by Kasi Lemmons and screenplay by Lemmons and Gregory Allen Howard. Lemmons has directed Eve’s Bayou starring Samuel L. Jackson, Talk to Me, Black Nativity, and Candyman in her career and also was a featured actress in E.R., and Silence of the Lambs. Howard has also directed well known titles including Remember the Titans, and Ali.
This feature co-stars Cynthia Erivo who plays Harriet, and Leslie Odom, Jr. Erivo is known for her performance in the 2015 Broadway revival The Color Purple which won the 2016 Tony Award for “Best Actress in a Musical,” and 2017 Grammy Award for “Best Musical Theater Album.” Leslie Odom, Jr. has been featured in popular TV shows including: The Good Wife, Law & Order: Special Victim’s Unit, and Grey’s Anatomy but may most recently be recognized for his role as “Aaron Burr” in Broadway’s Hamilton where he won “Best Actor” in the 2016 Tony Award. He was also recently feature in the music commercial with Nationwide Insurance.
Other respected cast members include Janelle Monáe who’s had a recent film debut costarring in Moonlight, and Hidden Figures, which both won “Best Picture” at the Oscars. Monáe has been distinctly recognized for receiving the “Breakthrough Award” at the 10th Annual Essence Black Women in Hollywood event. Joe Alywn also plays in “Harriet” and is known from his work in Mary Queen of Scots, and The Favourite with Emma Stone and is rumored to be dating country music artist Taylor Swift! Find out more about the cast and movie at IMDB.
Harriet Tubman’s Story
Harriet Tubman is a well recognized American icon and hero for her courageous life story. She was born between 1820 and 1822 in Dorchester County, MD and originally named Aramita Ross but renamed herself in honor of her mother Harriet Green. Her father was Benjamin Ross and she was one of nine children. Her parents were indentured servants; her mother worked as a cook in a plantation and her father as a timber worker. At only 5 years old Tubman was rented out by the plantation owners for physical labor. Her earliest signs of resistance to slavery came at the age of twelve when she took a brutal beating of a two-pound weight to her scull after trying to intervene her master beating an enslaved man. This injury made her suffer a lifetime of headaches, hallucinations, and narcolepsy.
In 1840, Harriet’s family was set free, but the plantation owner only released the father and kept the rest of the family in bondage. Four years later, Harriet married John Tubman, a free black man. John threatened to sell Harriet further South and after several years she made plans to escape. John remarried later in 1851.
In 1849, Harriet escaped with her two brothers from the plantation in Maryland and used the secret routes of the Underground Railroad to reach Pennsylvania and freedom. Her journey was made alone when her brothers changed their mind and returned to Maryland. Once reaching freedom, Harriet returned South unsatisfied of who she left behind and with a mission to free family and loved ones. She became an Underground Railroad conductor and with the help of other abolitionists such as Frederick Douglass, Thomas Garrett and Martha Coffin Wright, she established her own network and is believed to have emancipated around 300 slaves.
When the Civil War started in 1861, Harriet found other ways of fighting slavery, worked as a nurse, recruited fugitive slaves, and worked as espionage and a scout for the Union Army from her extensive knowledge of traveling transportation routes during her emancipation efforts. In her later years, she settled in Auburn, New York with a new family, and supported philanthropic efforts for anyone in need. She spoke on behalf of the women’s suffrage movement and worked along Susan B. Anthony. She also purchased an adjacent lot to her home and started “Harriet Tubman Home for Aged and Indigent Colored People.” Harriets health deteriorated and she passed away from pneumonia on March 13th, 1913 and was buried with military honors at Fort Hill Cemetery.
Virginia Films and Tourism
Governor Northam announced earlier this year, “we are delighted to welcome Harriet to Virginia and look forward to providing the backdrop for this groundbreaking project, which will play a key role in bringing the powerful story of an iconic American heroine to life. Harriet presents a tremendous economic opportunity for the Commonwealth both during filming and beyond, thanks to the impressive exposure a film of this scope and profile offers. We are confident this project will help pave the way for future industry growth and continue to point a powerful spotlight on all Virginia has to offer.” Andy Edmunds, Director of Virginia Film Office projects $30 million in economic impact in Virginia from this film.
The last big film that was filmed in Mathews County was Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report featuring Tom Cruise in North, Mathews.
The movie is scheduled to debut in theaters in the fall of 2019. Stay tuned for a special TRAIL featuring the location that Harriet was filmed across Virginia!
**The history portrayed in the movie “Harriet” did not take place in Mathews County.