Studio exec once suggested Julia Roberts for Harriet Tubman biopic

Last Updated on July 30, 2021

Here at facts matter. We strive to bring you the coolest and most interesting stories but it's also important that we get the information right. 99.9% of the time I think we succeed and a big reason is that we don't use sources like Yep. I just made a JAY AND SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK reference. So believe me when I tell you that the revelation from this latest story is so off-the-wall bonkers insane, that if I didn't see the source it came from I would have thought it was total bullshit.

With HARRIET, audiences recently got the chance to watch the life story of one of the greatest American historical figures, Harriet Tubman, on the big screen. Born a slave, Tubman went on to become one of the most passionate abolitionists of the era, mounting some thirteen rescue missions on the Underground Railroad and saving seventy slaves. While most critics were cool on the biopic (Joblo's own Matt Rooney among them) Cynthia Erivo by all accounts provided a masterful performance worthy of the historical figure. As powerful a performance as Erivo delivered, a studio executive once proposed a, shall we say, unorthodox actress choice.

It took twenty-five years for screenwriter and producer Gregory Allen to bring Harriet Tubman's story to the big screen. When the process began in 1994 a studio executive that Allen chose not to name, suggested that Julia Roberts play the title role. Yes you read that right. Despite the glaring fact that Harriet Tubman was black and Julia Roberts is very much a white woman, some genius actually thought it was a good idea. The incident occurred during a meeting to discuss the script:

“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.'”

WOW. Just wow.

Now listen I'm all about equal opportunity casting. There's no reason to limit a specific role based on race. The fact that Zoe Kravitz, a black woman, earned the part of Catwoman in Matt Reeves' THE BATMAN has much more to do with her talent as an actress than her race. Likewise Idris Elba delivered a fantastic performance as Roland Deschain in the otherwise forgettable THE DARK TOWER, despite the character in the books being white. Ditto Morgan Freeman as Red in THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION.

The one caveat to this idea though is if the character's (or in this case historical figure's) identity is intrinsically and fundamentally tied to the person's race. That is 100% the case with Harriet Tubman. I just don't see how anyone in their right mind suggests a white actress play a prominent black historical figure. It's beyond the pale.

HARRIET starring Cynthia Erivo, Leslie Odom Jr., and Janelle Monae is currently in theaters.

Source: Focus Features, Entertainment Weekly

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