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2019 Urbanworld Film Festival

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For all the talent she has, British actress Cynthia Erivo has encountered quite a bit of criticism in a short time for some of the huge roles she’s chosen to take. Last year, people felt that as a non-American woman who was not a descendant of slavery, she didn’t need to play Harriet Tubman in Kasi Lemmons’ Harriet. 

Well, it’s deja vu all over again, because Cynthia has received more side-eyes as of late for taking on the role of Aretha Franklin in the upcoming National Geographic channel series, Genius: Aretha. 

In an interview with HipHollywood, the 32-year-old, who already has a Tony, Emmy and Grammy to her credit, said that despite the negativity that can come, she relishes the opportunity to play strong women she’s always looked up to.

“It is scary, I guess, to take on one of your heroes — another one of your heroes [laughs], but it’s exciting I guess the idea that I get to be a part of the telling of these people’s lives, these stories, is what I’ve always wanted to do,” she said. “As an actress, you dream of being given the chance to be a part of the telling of rich women’s lives, and that’s what this is and I think I’m just excited to just be able to do that.”

When asked what advice she would give to other young actresses’ who may be getting started and find themselves facing backlash for the opportunities they get, she says it’s important to not let people get you out of your character with the things they say. It seems to have worked for her.

“You should understand that everyone is entitled to how they feel, that it is not a crime to feel things, but to stand strong in your grace and know that if you do the hard work, hopefully that will come through,” she said

There’s a whole separate, official biopic in the works called Respect, and Jennifer Hudson is starring as Aretha in that. Before her death, the Queen of Soul had also suggested Halle Berry to play her in such a film about her life. According to HipHollywood though, Cynthia’s received approval for her portrayal of Aretha from the late singer’s family.

As for backlash, Cynthia is used to defending herself from it. When casting news came out that she would play Harriet Tubman, as she noted, she handled it pretty gracefully.

“I struggled a little with whether or not to post anything about this role, because even though there is so much celebration and encouragement coming through, there’s also anger and offense spurred on by my being from the UK,” she wrote online in 2018. “I guess there is a bigger conversation to be had about heritage and experience, also about who Harriet really was. That can not be had in an Instagram post, what I will say is that my journey to this woman has been long and detailed and one I have not taken lightly.”

“People speak of foreign privilege and truthfully life would be unbelievably easy if that were applied to me but that is not my portion,” she added. “I cannot tell how protective I am of this woman and her story.”

Check out what Cynthia had to say in her short interview, below:

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