Recently celebrated actress Cynthia Erivo played famed abolitionist Harriet Tubman in Kasi Lemmons’ biopic “Harriet” which has drawn rave critical and audience reviews along with better than expected box-office.
As part of a recent The L.A. Times piece, the film’s screenwriter Gregory Allen Howard discussed the film’s decades-long journey to the screen and revealed that at one point a very surprising name was suggested to play Tubman in the film – none other than the extremely caucasian Julia Roberts.
Howard explained that he had been working on the script for the film as long ago as the early-mid 1990s, but the “climate in Hollywood…was very different back then.” He goes on to say a “then-president of a studio sub-label” praised the script and suggested Roberts play Tubman:
“Fortunately, there was a single black person in that studio meeting 25 years ago who told him that Harriet Tubman was a black woman. The president replied, ‘That was so long ago. No one will know that.'”
Howard credits the massive box-office successes of “12 Years A Slave” and “Black Panther” as paving the way for “Harriet”. Howard says he very much didn’t want to “write a history lesson” and saw her story as “a genre piece” and could be made very accessible to a mass audience.