'Harriet' Star Cynthia Erivo on Filming Her Steps to Freedom: 'Everyone Was in Tears'

The 92nd Annual Academy Awards will air live from the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood on Feb. 9 at 8 p.m. ET on ABC

The moment Harriet Tubman steps towards freedom in the stunning biopic bearing her name was just as special on set as it looks on camera.

Harriet star Cynthia Erivo, who is the only acting nominee of color at the 2020 Academy Awards this year, tells PEOPLE about the tearjerking moment when Tubman is finally free in the movie.

“There was a moment where Harriet makes the step into freedom, and the day was just as gloomy as you can believe. The sky was grey, it was raining, and we had so much to do that day that it just felt like it was impossible,” Erivo, 33, recalls, but that didn’t stop director Kasi Lemmons from wanting to shoot the pivotal scene anyway.

“We start shooting, and just as I make the step over, the clouds break, the sun comes out,” Erivo says. “So the sun in my face [in the movie] is the real sun in my face. You look around and everyone’s in tears. It felt like one of those moments where we knew that we weren’t doing it on our own.”

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Erivo was also nominated for Best Original Song at the Oscars for her tune “Stand Up” from the movie. But while she’ll perform at the ceremony, she skipped on performing at the BAFTAs this past weekend after the British Academy failed to nominated a single actor of color.

“I felt like [the invitation] didn’t represent people of color in the right light,” she told Extra about turning down the offer to sing during her home country’s most prestigious awards ceremony. “It felt like it was calling on me as an entertainer as opposed to a person who was a part of the world of film, and I think that it’s important to make it known that it’s not something you throw in as a party trick, you know?”

“I work hard and every single person of color who is working in these films this year has worked really hard, and there are many of them who deserve to be celebrated,” Erivo added. “And no women directors, I was just like, ‘C’mon.’”

The 92nd Annual Academy Awards will air live from the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood on Feb. 9 at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.

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