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Cynthia Erivo’s Harriet Tubman Movie Lands at Focus

Focus Features has come on board “Harriet,” a feature film chronicling the life of abolitionist Harriet Tubman with Tony Award-winner Cynthia Erivo in the lead.

“Hamilton” star Leslie Odom Jr., Joe Alwyn, Jennifer Nettles, and Clarke Peters are also starring. Kasi Lemmons (“Eve’s Bayou”) will direct a screenplay she co-wrote with Gregory Allen Howard.

Focus announced Thursday that production will start in October in Virginia. Producers are Debra Martin Chase with Martin Chase Productions, Daniela Taplin Lundberg with Stay Gold Features, and Howard. Cinematographer John Toll, won back-to-back Oscars for “Legends of the Fall” and “Braveheart,” is also on board. Josh McLaughlin will oversee the production.

“Harriet” follows Tubman on her 1849 escape from slavery and subsequent missions to free dozens of slaves through the Underground Railroad in the face of growing pre-Civil War adversity.

“This is the story of a seemingly powerless woman who accomplished the extraordinary to save her loved ones, and in the process became a leader of and inspiration for her people,” said Martin Chase and Lundberg. “While Harriet Tubman is a household name, most people don’t know the breadth of her story — not only was she a conductor on the Underground Railroad, but she was a spy for the Union army and remains one of the the few women to have led an armed expedition in U.S. history.”

Erivo won a Tony Award, Drama Desk Award, Theatre World Award, and Outer Critics Circle Award for her performance in “The Color Purple” on Broadway in 2015. She’s been attached to the “Harriet” project since last year. Charles D. King and Kim Roth had been attached as producers on “Harriet” last year but are no longer on the project.

“Tubman’s courageous life and the scope of her bravery is truly made to be told on the big screen,” said Focus chairman Peter Kujawski. “The countless lives she saved, during a time of such hatred and danger to herself, can be described only as heroic. We’re thrilled to be working with this incredibly talented group of filmmakers led by Kasi, Debra, Daniela, and Greg and this multi-talented group of actors in bringing Tubman’s life to screen.”

Focus Features and Universal Pictures International will distribute the film worldwide.

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