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Harriet is in theaters Nov. 1

By Justin Curto
July 23, 2019 03:19 PM
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Tony Award winner Cynthia Erivo is taking on her biggest role yet: abolitionist Harriet Tubman, who freed slaves along the Underground Railroad.

In the upcoming biopic Harriet, Erivo, 32, stars as Tubman in the story of her early years of abolitionist work. The trailer, released Tuesday, shows her initial escape from slavery, and her decision to help members of her family to freedom, which started her involvement with the Underground Railroad. Tubman eventually freed 70 slaves over 11 years.

“I don’t think she set out to be a superhero,” Broadway star Erivo told PEOPLE of Tubman in February. “I think she just set out to do the right thing.”

4130_D002_00002_RC Cynthia Erivo stars as Harriet Tubman in HARRIET, a Focus Features release. Credit: Glen Wilson / Focus Features
Credit: Glen Wilson/Focus Features

The trailer also gives the first look at Hamilton Tony Award winner Leslie Odom Jr. as William Still, another black abolitionist known as the “Father of the Underground Railroad,” in one of his first film roles. Musician and movie star Janelle Monáe, The Favourite‘s Joe Alwyn and Sugarland singer Jennifer Nettles also star.

Eve’s Bayou director Kasi Lemmons helmed the movie, which she cowrote with Remember the Titans writer Gregory Allen Howard. Tony, Grammy and Emmy winner Erivo also sings “Farewell Oh Farewell,” a new song from the film, in the trailer.

Erivo, who portrayed Celie in the 2015 Broadway revival of The Color Purple and previously starred alongside Viola Davis in 2018 thriller Widows, is British. She told PEOPLE she came to the role with some knowledge of Tubman’s role in history, but had to research more.

“I knew she was small like me,” Erivo, who is 5-foot-1-inch, told PEOPLE. “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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The movie comes at a time of renewed interest in the important role Tubman played in history, thanks in part to a long-running effort to get her face on the $20 bill.

“It’s a new way of looking at Harriet,” Erivo told PEOPLE of the movie. “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.”

Harriet is in theaters Nov. 1.