A Hollywood executive wanted Julia Roberts to play Harriet Tubman in a biopic, the screenwriter of the new film Harriet said Tuesday.
In a Q&A published earlier this month by Harriet studio Focus Features, Gregory Allen Howard says when he first started working on the film in 1994, a studio executive suggested Roberts portray the slave turned abolitionist.
“I was told how one studio head said in a meeting, ‘This script is fantastic. Let’s get Julia Roberts to play Harriet Tubman,’” Allen explained. “When someone pointed out that Roberts couldn’t be Harriet, the executive responded, ‘It was so long ago. No one is going to know the difference.’”
This revelation sparked controversy on social media. Some social media users expressed their thoughts calling the casting suggestion absurd and tone-death. Others mocked the casting suggestion entirely.
This is just another form of Black and brown erasure in #Hollywood! Whilst Julia Roberts is an accomplished actress, our “ancestral” stories should be depicted with Black and brown faces, not just for authenticity but cause sometime Hollywood needs checking! 🤷🏿♂️
— marvinmaddix (@marvinmaddix) November 20, 2019
Me, trying to understand how someone could propose Julia Roberts to play Harriet Tubman pic.twitter.com/M9IOyMhkaB
— Brinda (@BrindaPenmetsa2) November 20, 2019
Harriet, the historical drama based on Tubman’s life, was released earlier this month and stars British singer and actress Cynthia Erivo. Tubman’s story has long been in various stages of development in Hollywood; Viola Davis was set to produce and star in the biopic. The new film also stars Leslie Odom Jr., Joe Alwyn, and Janelle Monae.