HBO News Blog

Viola Davis to Star as Harriet Tubman in HBO Treatment

By Jef Dinsmore on May 26, 2015 to HBO Films

People_ViolaDavisEveryone wants a turn at an HBO project. It is Viola Davis’ turn. Davis (pictured), from ABC’s How to Get Away With Murder will now star as slave turned abolitionist Harriet Tubman for an HBO films presentation. Tubman was born into slavery in Maryland, escaped in 1849 and led countless slaves from the South to freedom along what was called the Underground Railroad. It was a series of hideaways and safehouses on a route to then northern states and freedom. The biopic is said to be based on a noted work about the the heroic Tubman entitled “Bound for the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman,” by historian Kate Clifford Larson. Those interested on the source material can find it here.

From the source material we can some details about the lead character and the book’s approach:

Drawing from a trove of new documents and sources as well extensive genealogical research, Larson reveals Tubman as a complex woman— brilliant, shrewd, deeply religious, and passionate in her pursuit of freedom. The descendant of the vibrant, matrilineal Asanti people of the West African Gold Coast, Tubman was born into slavery on the Eastern Shore of Maryland but refused to spend her life in bondage. While still a young woman she embarked on a perilous journey of self-liberation—and then, having won her own freedom, she returned again and again to liberate family and friends, tapping into the Underground Railroad.


Yet despite her success, her celebrity, her close ties with Northern politicians and abolitionists, Tubman suffered crushing phHBOFilmsTubman_sourceysical pain and emotional setbacks. Stripping away myths and misconceptions, Larson presents stunning new details about Tubman’s accomplishments, personal life, and influence, including her relationship with Frederick Douglass, her involvement with John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry, and revelations about a young woman who may have been Tubman’s daughter. Here too are Tubman’s twilight years after the war, when she worked for women’s rights and in support of her fellow blacks, and when racist politicians and suffragists marginalized her contribution.

The producing teams joining to get this production to the screen are no strangers to historical pieces for HBO. Producer Doug Ellin penned the John Adams miniseries and the team that is Amblin Entertainment was an integral part of the WWII miniseries starting with BAND OF BROTHERS. The story they will now tell takes us to the southern U. S. when slavery was thriving and when out of that chaos in 1849 Harriet Tubman escaped to freedom and then, through the years, led hundreds of others to that same freedom along treacherous paths. She died at the age of 91 in 1913, but only after she aided slaves, the Union army and suffragettes during her righteous calling.   

We will keep this site updated on further developments with this project, so look out for the life of Harriet Tubman with Viola Davis hopefully in 2016.    

(Source: Deadline)

  • Eleonora Iafano

    Looking forward to seeing this come alive on screen. Is it me, or has there not been a production of this before? I’m surprised: Harriet Tubman is a pioneer and legend, heroic and brave. This story needs to be told and brought to life. Viola Davis will, no doubt, channel the strength and emotional angst that Harriet herself must have endured many times to achieve her goal.

  • Ellie Wilkin

    Amazing! She couldn’t be more perfect for this!

    • Jef Dinsmore

      Yes, and a great story to be told.

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