×

Why ‘Harriet’ Doesn’t Mention the $20 Bill

In “Harriet,” directed and co-written by Kasi Lemmons, Cynthia Erivo plays Harriet Tubman, who escaped slavery, joined the Underground Railroad and then freed more than 70 people from slavery. (Spoilers about the movie ahead.) Though Tubman died in 1913 at age 91, the movie ends during the Civil War, with Tubman leading a troop of black soldiers for the Union Army. 

A chyron then appears that reads: 

Harriet Tubman was the most famous conductor on the Underground Railroad, leading over 70 slaves to freedom.

During the Civil War, Harriet became a spy for the Union Army.

She led 150 black soldiers in the Combahee River Raid, freeing over 750 slaves.

Harriet remains one of the few women in U.S. history to lead an armed expedition.

She later remarried and dedicated her life to helping freed slaves, the elderly and Women’s Suffrage.

She died surrounded by loved ones on March 10, 1913, at approximately 91 years of age.

Her last words were, “I go to prepare a place for you.”

Popular on Variety

Tubman’s accomplishments are, of course, hard to summarize. But audience members might well wonder why Lemmons didn’t end “Harriet” by mentioning that someday — though not in 2020 as originally scheduled — Tubman will replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill.

Lemmons told Variety that in one draft of “Harriet,” Tubman-on-the-$20 was indeed the film’s kicker. But she chose to end with her famous final words instead.

We chose the words carefully, and there was a message there. And it was a message of leadership and deep spirituality, and beauty and grace that went with her to the very last words of her life,” Lemmons says. “I mean, I think that’s just incredibly beautiful. And a beautiful way to to sum up her life, you know?”

During the Obama administration, Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew decided that Tubman’s image would replace Jackson’s on the $20 in 2020. It would mark the centennial of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote. 

But earlier this year, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced that the bills need new security features, and won’t be ready until 2026 at the earliest. Jackson, who owned slaves, happens to be Donald Trump’s favorite president, and during Trump’s campaign, he called the switch to Tubman’s image “pure political correctness.”

“Harriet” faced a difficult journey to the screen, but producers Debra Martin Chase and Daniela Taplin Lundberg always believed that the film would succeed with audiences. Focus Features, which eventually signed on to make the movie, told Variety before its release that the company was “bullish” on its prospects, citing extremely strong testing. 

That confidence has borne out. Through two weekends of release, “Harriet” has been a box office success, collecting more than $23 million across 2,186 screens. 

In that same spirit, Lemmons isn’t worried that the delay of Tubman on the $20 is permanent.

“I think it’s inevitable,” she says with a confident laugh. “I think it’s been postponed for various reasons. But I think it’s happening.”

More Film

  • Olivia Colman - Lead Actress -

    Sundance: Sony Pictures Classics Buys 'The Father' With Anthony Hopkins, Olivia Colman

    Sony Pictures Classics has acquired rights to “The Father” ahead of its world premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. The pact takes one of the hottest titles off the block. “The Father,” based on an acclaimed stage play by Florian Zeller, stars Oscar winners Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman. The deal is for U.S. [...]

  • Robert Downey Jr. as Dr. John

    'Dolittle' Headed for Box Office Flop as 'Bad Boys for Life' Opens Solidly

    Robert Downey Jr.’s “Dolittle” is headed for a box office flop. Universal’s fantasy-adventure grossed $925,000 from Thursday night previews from 3,050 North American theaters, with showings beginning at 5 p.m. The film, projected for a four-day opening of $22 million to $25 million, carries a $180 million-plus price tag. “Bad Boys for Life,” meanwhile, launched [...]

  • Paris Recreated for Movie Productions on

    TSF Recreates Paris on Former Air Base for Movie and TV Shoots

    As French outfits move to expand their studio offerings, industry eyes have turned to a 20-hectare stretch of land 20 miles south of Paris. There, in the commune Plessis-Pâté, sits the TSF Backlot 217, a converted air base that has become one the Gallic industry’s banner initiatives. One of France’s leading production suppliers, TSF scoped [...]

  • DSC07163.ARW

    Streamers Urge French Production Sector to Go Green

    For the French industry, the drive to open up additional studio spaces has gone hand-in-hand with the push for green production, because for the most part, they share the same root cause: The international streamers that are causing a surge in audiovisual production tend to have strict criteria when it comes to sustainable development. “Companies [...]

  • ‘Ali & Ava’: First Look at

    ‘Ali & Ava’: First Look at Clio Barnard’s Just-Wrapped Fourth Feature

    Principal photography has wrapped on “Ali & Ava,” the fourth feature from writer-director Clio Barnard (“Dark River,” “The Selfish Giant”), starring Adeel Akhtar (“Four Lions”) and Claire Rushbrook (“Secrets & Lies”). The contemporary British love story follows Ava (Rushbrook), a respected matriarch on a predominantly white Bradford estate masking the scars left by an abusive [...]

  • Reed Hastings

    Netflix Bows French Office With a Bang, Unveils New Shows, Films

    Netflix continued to make strides in its European expansion on Thursday, unveiling a swanky multi-floor Paris office and announcing 20 new French shows and movies in the pipeline. Located in the heart of the city and staffed with 40 employees, Netflix’s office launch attracted French industry figures, including producers and filmmakers working with or looking [...]

  • Any Day Now

    New Europe Film Sales Picks up Hamy Ramezan’s ‘Any Day Now’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    Jan Naszewski’s Warsaw-based sales company has boarded Finnish-Iranian Hamy Ramezan’s debut feature “Any Day Now,” to be shown as a work in progress at Göteborg’s Nordic Film Market, WHICH RUNS Jan 30.-Feb 2. Ramezan’s drama, produced by Aamu Film Company (“The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki”), already enjoys a strong buzz from [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content