The new Harriet Tubman biopic Harriet was almost added to the list of whitewashed movies, as, according to a new interview, a studio executive reportedly suggested Julia Roberts for the role.
Harriet, which is a historical drama that chronicles Tubman’s life as a freedom fighter, from her escape from slavery to the ways she changed American history, is directed by Kasi Lemmons and stars Cynthia Erivo. But according to an interview on Focus Features, the film’s screenwriter and producer Gregory Allen Howard, who started working on the film back in 1994, said it wasn’t produced right away because the film industry was “very different back then.”
Back in 1994… a president of a studio sublabel said, “This is a great script. Let’s get Julia Roberts to play Harriet Tubman." Fortunately, there was a single black person in that studio meeting 25 years ago who told him Harriet Tubman was a black woman https://t.co/ScNQgtoLRh
— LAT Entertainment (@latimesent) November 19, 2019
“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 explains. “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.'”
Allen continued to explain that Harriet only made it to the big screen recently because other films needed to pave the way for it. “When 12 Years a Slave became a hit and did a couple million dollars worldwide, I told my agent, ‘You can’t say this kind of story won’t make money now,'” Allen explained. “Then Black Panther really blew the doors open.”