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Are we really surprised that a Hollywood movie executive wanted Julia Roberts to play Harriet Tubman? Yes, it was 25 years ago, but let’s be real. Whitewashing still occurs today.

  • 2001: Jennifer Connelly played Alicia Nash (an El Salvadorian) in “A Beautiful Mind.”
  • 2007: Angelina Jolie played Marian Pearl (an Afro-Cuban) in “A Mighty Heart.”
  • 2008: Jim Sturgess played Jeffrey Ma (a Chinese-American) in “21.”
  • 2012: Ben Affleck played Antonio J Mendez (a Mexican-American) in “Argo.”
  • 2013: Johnny Depp played Tonto (a Native American) in “The Lone Ranger.
  • 2016: Joseph Fiennes played Michael Jackson (an African-American) in “Elizabeth, Michael, and Marlon.”

Source: LUCY NICHOLSON / Getty

For the sake of Tubman and the ancestors, it didn’t go down like that for the “Harriet” movie.

In an interview with Focus Features, Harriet screenwriter and producer, Gregory Allen, recalled one Hollywood executive’s reaction when he pitched the movie.

“This script is fantastic. Let’s get Julia Roberts to play Harriet Tubman,” the executive said.

Fortunately, the only Black producer in the meeting spoke up, reminding the group that Harriet Tubman was Black.

Harriet Tubman 1820-1913, American Abolitionist, Full-Length Standing Portrait with Hands resting on Chair by Harvey B Lindsley, early 1870s

Source: Universal History Archive / Getty

“It was so long ago,” the executive replied. “No one is going to know the difference.”

But for Allen, that wouldn’t cut it. The screenwriter of “Remember the Titans” and “Ali” told Focus Features that being true to film is vital in the stories he tells.

“When you do historical films, you have to stay true to the spirit of the story,” he said. “All I do are true stories.”

So, when Allen first saw Cynthia Erivo perform as Celie in the Broadway musical, “The Color Purple,” and he knew right away that she was Harriet.


Source: The Washington Post / Getty

“As soon as she opened her mouth, I thought, ‘Yes, that’s Harriet,’” he recalled.

We think Tubman and the ancestors would agree.

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