Vanessa Bell Calloway on “Harriet”: Faith, Family, and Playing With a Bad Set of Cards

Lessons Abound in the Film “Harriet”, We Asked Vanessa Bell Calloway

vanessa bell calloway harriet
Richmond Times-Dispatch

As Harriet opens in theatres everywhere this weekend, stories and reviews pour in on the riveting impact Harriet Tubman’s story has on viewers – and even the actors in the film.

The incredible Vanessa Bell Calloway, currently starring as Lady Ella in “Saints & Sinners” on Bounce TV, plays Harriet Tubman’s mother in the film; she stopped by the Team Jesus Locker Room for a brief chat about the film’s impact on her life and the importance of faith, family, and fortitude.

Harriet Tubman’s Family Bond and Tenacity

In this role and in your research as Harriet Tubman’s mom, what do you think was the key lesson she instilled in Harriet?

Vanessa Bell Calloway:
Well, I think family is where this movie has a big presence and grit. In the beginning, you see Harriet and her mother’s connection and how they’re connected to the family unit when they’re trying to go to their master to say that they all should be free because her mother was promised freedom 10 years prior, and then he went against the promise.

So, you see the deep connection as a family. And, even when Harriet decided to flee, she always got to go back and see her mama. She had to go back and let her mama know she cared. They were close, you could tell they were close.

Did you personally learn something about Harriet Tubman that perhaps you didn’t know before the movie?

Vanessa Bell Calloway:
I did. Yeah. I didn’t know that her birth name was not Harriet Tubman. She was Araminta Ross – Harriet was her mother’s name, and Tubman was her husband’s last name.

Exactly. She put her ‘free’ name together beautifully.
So, tell us how working on the film has impacted your life personally?

Vanessa Bell Calloway:
Well, you know, it was a part that I read and I wanted, I wanted to work with Debra Martin Chase and I wanted to work with Kasi Lemmons. It was a joy to work with Cynthia (Erivo). It was something that I wanted. So, now I have these memories forever. This is the role that I created in the very first movie done about Harriet. That’s special. They can make as many movies that they want to about Harriet, from this moment on but, I played in the very first one {laughter}. So that’s special to me. 

There are some, as you say, strong family overtones in the film, and definitely some faith overtones. How do you hope this will impact society today?

Vanessa Bell Calloway:
What I hope is that it reminds people, especially African-Americans of the fight we had. Harriet Tubman was presented a very bad set of cards. I mean, any and all of our ancestors were. And they had to do the best they could with what they had. She decided that she wasn’t gonna take it anymore. This woman couldn’t read or write. She just listened to her inner soul.

She listened to the voice of God and she let God guide her. She was determined to put her life into fighting for her people. So, I just hope that people take away that her sacrifice helped changed the course of our times, helped change the course of America, and that we can take from her and apply those same attributes to today’s time and do whatever we want to do.

Don’t miss the opening weekend of Harriet, in theatres everywhere Friday, November 1st!


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