Harriet screenwriter Gregory Allen Howard reports a studio executive suggested to him that Julia Roberts play the role of Harriet Tubman.
In a Q&A with Focus Features earlier this month, Howard detailed the long road it took him to get Harriet developed.
When asked about the history of his project, Howard explained one studio executive recommended Julia Roberts for the part of Harriet Tubman.
“Harriet, which was set up at Disney 26 years ago, was my first assignment. 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. The climate in Hollywood, however, 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.””
Howard then explained the executive wanted Julia Roberts because Harriet Tubman’s story took place so long ago that no one would remember.
“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.” “
In an op-ed with the Los Angeles Times, Howard would recall the studio executives response as well. However, this time he refers to them as a “then-president of a studio sublabel.”
“Picture 1994: “This is a great script. Let’s get Julia Roberts to play Harriet Tubman,” said the then-president of a studio sublabel. Fortunately, there was a single black person in that studio meeting 25 years ago who told him that Harriet Tubman was a black woman. The president replied, “That was so long ago. No one will know that.””
One might think this is an absurd reaction from a Hollywood executive, but as comic book fans well know, it’s pretty much the norm in Hollywood.
Hollywood executives believe they can get away with race and gender swapping characters especially if they are lesser known. They don’t believe audiences will care. In fact, this trend seems to have picked up recently. Maybe the biggest example is the upcoming Eternals from Disney and Marvel Studios.
Not only are they gender and race swapping lesser known characters, but it’s happening with more popular characters like Jim Gordon and Black Canary.
Matt Reeves’ The Batman film recently cast Jeffrey Wright as Jim Gordon. Margot Robbie’s Birds of Prey film race-swapped Black Canary.
There are also rumors that Marvel Studios is looking to race change Magneto and Charles Xavier.
This just reinforces the idea that Hollywood executives are completely out of touch with movie going audiences. And not only are they out of touch with movie going audiences, they also believe them to be ignorant, especially if they think American audiences would accept Julia Roberts as Harriet Tubman.
What do you make of Howard’s comments that a Hollywood executive wanted Julia Roberts to play Harriet Tubman?