‘Harriet’ Screenwriter Claims A Studio Exec Wanted Julia Roberts To Play Harriet Tubman

Julia Roberts attends the Golden Globes
Frazer Harrison / Getty Images

Cynthia Erivo is currently starring as Harriet Tubman in the historical drama based on Tubman’s life story. The film is simply titled, Harriet. That said, Erivo was not always the first pick to portray Tubman on the big screen. Several iterations of Tubman’s story and the Underground Railroad have been in the works over the last several decades. There was even a time when Viola Davis was attached to star. However, perhaps the most shocking potential Tubman casting was none other than A-list actress Julia Roberts, reports Entertainment Weekly.

During a Q&A with Focus Features earlier this month, Harriet screenwriter and producer Gregory Alan Howard opened up about the moment an executive told him to cast Roberts in the leading role.

Howard claims that when he pointed out the fact Tubman is of African-American descent, the exec responded, “It was so long ago. No one is going to know the difference.”

Many people on social media have expressed their anger about the executive’s comment.

Carina Adly MacKenzie, the showrunner of The CW’s Roswell, New Mexico, asked Howard to “NAME NAMES.”

Howard has stayed mum on the names of the studio and exec in question.

“I think this Julia Roberts Harriet Tubman sh*t shows you just how stupid Hollywood executives are,” tweeted one user.

“I read this as ‘Julia Roberts was suggested by Harriet Tubman to play studio exec’ and it made more sense,” joked another person.

Jordan Crucchiola, the associate editor at Vulture, found a way to spin this controversy into a motivational lesson.

“If you’re chasing a Hollywood dream and feel doubtful you’ll ever make it, remember there are executives getting paid sh*t loads of money to suggest JULIA ROBERTS should play Harriet Tubman. A jar of cockroaches is more qualified than some of these people so DON’T GIVE UP.”

Most likely, had Roberts even been approached, the actress would have turned down the role, but luckily for Howard, the potential catastrophe was avoided altogether.

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Instead, many critics have praised Erivo’s performance as Tubman, and the film currently has a high 73 percent approval rating on the review aggregator, Rotten Tomatoes.

Cynthia Erivo as Harriet Tubman in still from Harriet (2019)
  Glen Wilson / Focus Features

Per the Entertainment Weekly article, it took a long time to gain approval from a studio to get the movie made. Despite Tubman’s incredible story, it wasn’t until movies like 12 Years a Slave and Black Panther released that conversations surrounding Harriet restarted.

Harriet finally brings Tubman’s historical journey to the big screen in a biopic that follows her evolution into the brave abolitionist we know her as today. The film shows how Tubman went about creating the Underground Railroad and freed hundreds of slaves.