‘Harriet’ Screenwriter Says Studio Exec Wanted Julia Roberts To Play Harriet Tubman – Deadline
One studio executive wanted to take white-washing history to a “whole ‘nother level,” when they requested Julia Roberts play the iconic Harriet Tubman, according to the screenwriter of acclaimed film “Harriet.” (SIDENOTE: We felt like Ebonics were necessary to stress the significance of this foolishness Moguldom Nation.)
Gregory Allen Howard said an unnamed studio executive made the casting suggestion in 1994, reported Deadline. Despite Roberts being white and looking nothing like the famed abolitionist and most popular conductor of The Underground Railroad, Howard said the executive had no qualms about it.
“I was told how one studio head said in a meeting, ‘This script is fantastic. Let’s get Julia Roberts to play Harriet Tubman,’” Howard said in a Focus Features Q&A. “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.’”
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Howard also said the person who objected to Roberts’ casting was the only Black person in the room. “ The climate in Hollywood, however, was very different back then,” Howard told Focus.
“ Two films really changed the climate in Hollywood to allow Harriet to be made. When 12 Years a Slave became a hit and did a couple hundred million dollars worldwide, I told my agent, “You can’t say this kind of story won’t make money now.” Then Black Panther really blew the doors open,” Howard said.
The film, starring Cynthia Erivo as Tubman, opened at U.S. heaters Nov. 1, making almost $12 million its opening weekend. Erivo has generated Oscar buzz for her performance and the film has a 73% score from critics and 97% score from the audience on Rotten Tomatoes.
Howard said he worked on the script for Harriet for 25 years. Having a niche for bringing real life stories to the big screen, Howard also wrote “Remember The Titans” and “Ali.”