The film industry sure loves to whitewash movies, but this is a whole other level of bad. According to to a new interview, a studio executive originally suggested Julia Roberts play Harriet Tubman in the new historical drama Harriet. His reasoning? “No one is going to know the difference.”
Harriet is a faithful historical drama that details Tubman’s life as a freedom fighter, from her days escaping slavery on through to her unflinching perseverance to change American history. It’s directed by Eve’s Bayou filmmaker Kasi Lemmons and stars Cynthia Erivo as Tubman. The film’s screenwriter and producer, Gregory Allen Howard, first started working on it back in 1994. But according to an interview published on Focus Features, as caught by Entertainment Weekly, Allen said it wasn’t produced right away because the Hollywood climate was “very different back then.”
“I was told how one studio head said in a meeting, ‘This script is fantastic. Let’s get Julia Roberts to play Harriet Tubman,'” said Allen. “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.'”
Allen then went on to explain that Harriet only recently hit theaters because it needed other films to pave the way first. “When 12 Years a Slave became a hit and did a couple hundred million dollars worldwide, I told my agent, ‘You can’t say this kind of story won’t make money now,'” he said, “”Then Black Panther really blew the doors open.”
Thankfully, times have changed since that moment in 1994. Erivo was cast as the film’s lead alongside similarly powerful black actresses, like Janelle Monáe. As for Roberts, she’s busy portraying white people, as is best, in movies and best-of-the-year TV shows alike.