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For many, Harriet Tubman’s journey is one we’re taught about in school. We know she’s a heroine, an abolitionist who led slaves to their freedom via the underground railroad. Unless you’ve read the books by Kate Clifford Larson or Beverly Lowry, “We didn’t receive the whole story,” says costume designer Paul Tazewell.
Until now. Kasi Lemmon’s film “Harriet” takes us on Tubman’s journey — the emotion, the faith and the willpower Tubman had, to free not just herself but others from slavery. In the film, Tazewell created the look based on historic daguerreotype photos he found. From there, he built the costumes around the narrative arc as Harriet Tubman goes from slave to Union Army officer.
Scene - Tazewell - Looks - Harriet - Journey
In this Framing the Scene, Tazewell breaks down key looks of Harriet’s journey.
Harriet Tubman’s first look:
With the original look, it’s how I always begin a design, I immersed myself with research. It was original research from the period. What I was finding were daguerreotypes of the period. At the time, that had just become very popular — documenting the slaves on plantations and life on plantations. Mostly, it was portraiture of many different economic different levels and races. After looking at the daguerreotypes of the neutral tone, some had been tinted after they had been taken. You had these strong dyes and very strong moments of color, in amongst a field of neutrals.
Decision - Harriet - World - Characters - Tone
I made the decision that’s really how we should represent Harriet that we have this very neutral world, and as we move through, the other characters, we should show her in this blue tone. We start with that with a red headwrap and that pop of color.
The fabrics I chose were about function. Plantations were growing cotton. The slaves were picking the cotton, spinning it and weaving it. They were sewing their own...
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