Cynthia Erivo is Harriet Tubman in the biopic 'Harriet'.
Focus Features released a nearly three-minute trailer for its upcoming Harriet Tubman biopic on Tuesday, ramping up interest in what seems to be a powerful lead performance by Cynthia Erivo.

The "Harriet" trailer begins with Tubman's escape from slavery, suggesting the film will trace her journey from that point through her valiant venture to lead hundreds of others to freedom on the Underground Railroad. Soon afterward, she encounters a white man on a bridge (Joe Alwyn, the actor who seemed to be everywhere last fall). 

Instead of winding up in the man's custody, she pronounces to him that she will "be free or die" and plunges into the rushing waters below.

Tubman, born Araminta Ross, is also seen sitting down with abolitionist William Still (Leslie Odom Jr), who asks her if she would like a different name to represent this new stage in life. He and a character played by Janelle Monáe encourage Tubman's efforts, but Still at one point reminds her of what she risks.

"I made it this far on my own," she tells him. "So don't you tell me what I can't do."

The film - directed by Kasi Lemmons ("Eve's Bayou"), who co-wrote the screenplay with Gregory Allen Howard ("Ali," "Remember the Titans") - seems likely to earn awards buzz for Erivo, 32, who is an Oscar away from becoming the youngest EGOT recipient. The strategic November release date backs this notion. But news of her casting was met with backlash in the fall, as some found fault with Erivo, who was raised in the UK and is of Nigerian heritage, playing an iconic American crusader.

Similar complaints had been made in the past regarding Daniel Kaluuya playing a black American in Jordan Peele's "Get Out", or David Oyelowo playing the Rev Martin Luther King Jr in Ava DuVernay's "Selma."

Erivo addressed the "Harriet" backlash in an Instagram post in September, writing that her journey to portraying Tubman had been "long and detailed and one I have not taken lightly".

"I fought for the role of Celie," Erivo wrote, referring to her award-winning performance in "The Color Purple" on Broadway, "and spilled blood sweat and tears playing her; the same applies for every role I've earned, this will be no different. I hope that I do everyone, even those who are in doubt or are upset, proud. I hope to quell your fears, because I understand that is what it is. I cannot tell how protective I am of this woman and her story."

The Washington Post