Demand from residents brings ‘Harriet’ film to Chatham

Galaxy Cinemas Chatham. (Photo by Allanah Wills)

A strong public outcry is getting the credit for ensuring that an iconic story in black history will be shown on the silver screen in Chatham.

When Samantha Meredith, Executive Director and Curator Chatham-Kent Black Historical Society & Black Mecca Museum, saw the trailer for the movie Harriet, she immediately knew it was a film that should be shown in the area. The two-hour biographical drama tells the story of slave-turned abolitionist, Harriet Tubman, who led hundreds of people to freedom by using the Underground Railroad in the mid-1800s.

Noting Chatham’s sizeable involvement in black history, Meridith and several of her friends wrote Cineplex Entertainment directly stating their wish to see the film play at Galaxy Cinemas Chatham.

“A lot of times the black history movies kind of skip our theatre in general. So I kind of already had in mind that I wanted to bring it to Cineplex’s attention. A couple of us sent out emails when we saw the trailer, just to let them know it would be important if it could come to our local theatre,” Meredith explained. “It’s important for our area. Chatham-Kent has three black historical sites, our community was built on black settlement. Many of those people who helped build our community came on the Underground Railroad.”

The film was released in North America on November 1, 2019. However, Meredith noticed it was not slated to be shown in Chatham.

Feeling “disheartened,” she took her frustrations to social media. In posts on both Facebook and Twitter, Meredith said she was disappointed to see Harriet not being played locally considering Chatham-Kent’s deeply rooted black history. According to Meredith, she received a response from Cineplex stating that the film wasn’t intended to be a wide release and the matter was being brought to the attention of the film’s distributor. She was also told that where films are played depends on a number of factors including the number of movies released at the time, local market appeal and the number of screens available at a particular theatre.

“Extremely disappointed that the Harriet Film is not coming to the Chatham-Kent Cineplex on Friday,” read the post. “A municipality whose heritage is black history, this film should never skip our town no matter the number of screens in our Cineplex movies.”

In hopes of making a difference, Meredith encouraged others to message Cineplex and tell them the importance of bringing the film to the area. Within hours, her post had dozens of comments and shares. Meredith said she was overwhelmed by the support.

“We had so many comments from people saying ‘I’m going to send an email, I’m going to make a phone call.’ All that kind of stuff. So it was fantastic that people were willing to voice their concerns over this,” she said. “Some people weren’t even from the Chatham area and still sent in emails because they knew the importance of black history to our area.”

After days of upset, Meredith’s and the Chatham-Kent Black Historical Society’s efforts eventually paid off. On Monday, she was told by Cineplex Entertainment that the film would, in fact, be coming to the local theatre. In an emailed statement to Blackburn News, Sarah Van Lange, executive director of communications with Cineplex Entertainment, confirmed the news.

“Yes – it is true. We love getting feedback from the community about titles that they’d like to see and accommodate requests as much as we can,” said Van Lange.

Meredith says it’s the public’s support and outcry that she has to thank for making it all possible.

“Thank you to everyone who got in contact with Cineplex, sent emails, made phone calls, Tweeted, Facebook messaged them. Because without all those people, it probably would never have come here. I think it’s fantastic that everybody jumped on board, helped out and we made it happened,” she said.

Meredith is hoping the local attention that the film is getting will cause it to sell out and more people can learn about the importance of telling the stories of black history.

“Seeing it, you’re going to become interested in learning more, then you’re going to start doing your own research into what the historical context of it is,” she said. “These Hollywood movies, yes they’re not 100 per cent historically accurate, but then classrooms can use them as well as teaching tools for kids. I think it’s very important that more black history is taught in schools.”

Harriet will begin playing at Galaxy Cinemas Chatham on Friday with the first showtime at 7:30 p.m.