Cynthia Erivo can be seen playing Harriet Tubman in the new biopic “Harriet”, but if one clueless studio exec had his way the iconic slave-turned-abolitionist would have been portrayed by a famous white actress instead.
Screenwriter Gregory Allen Howard recalls in an interview meeting with a studio executive 25 years ago while trying to get the film made, admitting “the climate in Hollywood… was very different” at the time.
“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 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.’”
Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed and Hollywood was spared from the notion of the “Pretty Woman” star playing an African-American icon.
Meanwhile, he emphasized how much things have changed in recent years when it comes to bringing African-American stories to the screen.
“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.”