At long last, a feature film biopic about Harriet Tubman is in theaters. Harriet tells the story of the abolitionist's journey to freedom after fleeing her slave owners in Dorchester, Maryland. Stepping into the role of Tubman is Cynthia Erivo, and she’s joined in the Harriet cast by a few other big names, playing a mix of real and imagined characters.
While there is a lot known about Tubman’s life, in order to tell the story on film, director and co-writer Kasi Lemmons (Eve’s Bayou, Black Nativity) took some liberties with some of the characters. For instance, the main antagonist, Gideon Brodess (Joe Alwyn) wasn’t a real person, even though the Brodess family really were Tubman’s owners. There is also a character who is altogether new: a Black boarding house owner who was born free, named Marie Buchanon (Janelle Monáe).
These new and composite characters allow Harriet to better show the emotional arc of Tubman’s lengthy, painful, inspiring story within the confines of a two-hour film. They may not be real, but they've been crafted with the time period and the political and social tumult of the pre-Civil War era in mind.
Here's a guide to which characters are actual historical figures, and which ones have been embellished for Harriet.