A Studio Head Allegedly Suggested Julia Roberts for the Role of Harriet Tubman in Harriet
We’ve come a long, long, long, long, long way in Hollywood in the last quarter decade.
Pre-Time’s Up, pre-inclusion rider — things were dark. I mean, we were out here casting Emma Stone as a woman of Chinese descent. We still have a long way to go in terms of representation, but there’s no minimizing the strides that have been made (hello, Black Panther, aka the highest grossing film of 2018).
But as backward as casting was in the dark ages of Hollywood, thankfully someone had the good sense to shut down an executive’s suggestion that … wait for it … Julia Roberts (Julia! Roberts!) play abolitionist Harriet Tubman in biopic Harriet.
In a Focus Features Q&A with Gregory Allen Howard, the Harriet screenwriter revealed that the project has been in development for 26 years. “The climate in Hollywood, however, was very different back then,” he explained. “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.’”
Naturally, Twitter had thoughts.
The film, which opened earlier this month, features a critically acclaimed performance from its non-white, non-Julia Roberts title lead, Cynthia Erivo.