The revelation that Julia Roberts was suggested to play Harriet Tubman has shocked and downright outraged many social media users.
“Harriet,” a historical film about the life of the slave-turned-abolitionist, starred actress Cynthia Erivo. But if one studio executive had their way, Roberts would’ve led the way.
Producer Gregory Allen Howard, who started writing the film’s screenplay over two decades ago with director Kasi Lemmons, revealed the outrageous casting request during an interview this month with Focus Features, the distributor for “Harriet.”
“‘Harriet,’ which was set up at Disney 26 years ago, was my first assignment. … Hollywood, however, was very different back then,” Howard recalled. “I was told how one studio head said in a meeting, ‘This script is fantastic. Let’s get Julia Roberts to play Harriet Tubman.’”
He continued: “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.’ “ (Howard did not identify the exec who allegedly made the proposal.)
But Twitter certainly does know the difference, and had some thoughts about the tone-deaf suggestion of a white actress portraying a black heroine.
“Yet another example of a system of erasure & marginalization in action,” tweeted @PRanganathan. “I wonder if the original version of that Notting Hill line had #JuliaRoberts saying this: ‘I’m just a girl standing in front a studio exec asking him to go to hell for suggesting I play Harriet Tubman.’”
Others mocked the casting suggestion entirely. “In light of news that Julia Roberts was being considered for the role of Harriet Tubman, I would like to put forth the idea for Leslie Jones to play Queen Elizabeth II in the upcoming biopic,” @mrparks212 tweeted.
User @LoriAnnGazella tweeted, “#JuliaRoberts is good but she not that good to play a woman of color.”
“I love Julia Roberts, but there are plenty of actresses of color who could play Harriet Tubman....Viola Davis comes to mind,” added @LynneGarrison.
USA TODAY reached out to Roberts’ rep for comment.
”Harriet,” starring Erivo, Leslie Odom Jr., Joe Alwyn and Janelle Monáe, debuted in theaters Nov. 1.
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