Julia Roberts Was Suggested To Play Harriet Tubman By Studio Head, Says Screenwriter


If folks were upset at British actress Cynthia Erivo portraying Harriet Tubman in the Harriet dramatized biopic, people would be up-in-arms if they knew who was suggested to star in the film. Gregory Allen Howard, the producer and screenwriter of Harriet, shared that he’s been working on getting his film to the silver screen for decades. It was way back in 1994 when he began his quest to have Harriet Tubman’s story told to the masses, but studio executives weren’t in line with his vision.

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Harriet, which was set up at Disney 26 years ago, was my first assignment,” Allen stated in an interview with Focus Features. “When I got in the business, I wanted to tell these historical stories by turning them into entertainment. I didn’t want to give history lessons. I wanted to turn Harriet Tubman’s life, which I’d studied in college, into an action-adventure movie.”

While he shared that films like Black Panther and 12 Years a Slave have helped change the perception of black films and their potentials for success, Howard was met with resistance 25 years ago. “The climate in Hollywood, however, was very different back then,” he added. “I was told how one studio head said in a meeting, ‘This script is fantastic. Let’s get Julia Roberts to play Harriet Tubman.’ 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, no one took that high-ranking studio executive seriously. Meanwhile, Howard also shared why he ended up choosing Erivo for the lead role. “I first saw her when the other producers flew me to New York to see her in The Color Purple. As soon as she opened her mouth, I thought, ‘Yes, that’s Harriet.’ Afterwards I emailed the other producers, ‘That’s Harriet. She’s a little stick of dynamite.'” Harriet is now playing in theaters, but you can watch the trailer below.

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