Published: Wed, November 20, 2019
Life&Culture | By Sue Mclaughlin

Studio Exec Wanted Julia Roberts to Play Harriet Tubman

Studio Exec Wanted Julia Roberts to Play Harriet Tubman

The movie's screenwriter and producer Gregory Allen Howard has revealed one particularly dispiriting meeting about the long-in-gestation movie, back in 1994. "I wanted to turn Harriet Tubman's life, which I'd studied in college, into an action-adventure movie". "Hollywood had to go through its own climate change".

In a Los Angeles Times piece, Howard explains that while in a meeting nearly 25 years ago, a studio executive praised the script and suggested Roberts should play the revered abolitionist who freed more than 300 slaves.

Howard goes on to say that when the studio boss was told that Harriet Tubman was an African American, he replied: "That was so long ago".

According to Entertainment Weekly, they wanted "Miss Pretty Woman" aka Julia Roberts to play Harriet Tubman. "Make it make sense", said another.

Harriet has now hit theaters with Broadway powerhouse Cynthia Erivo at the helm, but it took decades to find the right actress to portray Harriet Tubman.

While making fun of the side-by-side imagery is all in good fun, Howard's sharing that Julia Roberts was one of the film's suggested leads exemplifies the ongoing challenges Black creatives encounter in telling the stories of the heroes we hold so dear within the Black diaspora.

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The writer, who's also behind acclaimed movies Remember the Titans and Ali, also discussed why he chose Erivo, an African British actress, to play an African American activist.

Howard said he felt Tubman's story would make a great movie because she was "bigger than life".

Thankfully, for everyone involved, Roberts was not cast as Tubman.

"I first saw her when the other producers flew me to NY to see her in The Color Purple".

The film Harriet, which had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on 10 September 2019, and was released theatrically in the United States on 1 November, is a biographical film about Harriet Tubman who was born into slavery but escaped and became an abolitionist. "As soon as she opened her mouth, I thought, 'Yes, that's Harriet.' Afterwards I emailed the other producers, 'That's Harriet".

"Harriet", directed by Kasi Lemmons ("Luke Cage") and also starring Leslie Odom Jr. "She's a little stick of dynamite'".

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