One of Harriet Tubman’s family members is speaking out in regards to the now viral rumor that a Hollywood executive wanted Julia Roberts to play the lead role in Harriet, a biopic based on the freedom fighter’s life.
In a recent interview with TMZ, Tubman’s great-great-great-grandniece Tina Wyatt, essentially said all hell would have broken loose had Roberts been cast in the film.
“You would’ve had a boycott,” Wyatt began when asked what the response from Black audiences would be.
“Our history was important and it is important. We know the difference. It was important years ago before it was in our history books. When I was a child it was important but we were taught our history through our families, we were taught our history through our churches. We were not ignorant of those things.”
“For him to—whoever that was to say that, that we would not know the difference, that’s just straight up disrespectful and that’s a slap in the face. That’s horrible,” she continued.
Righteous outrage ensued after the film’s screenwriter Gregory Allen Howard revealed that during early production talks surrounding the film, an unnamed Hollywood studio executive suggested that Julia Roberts should star as Harriet.
“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,” he said. “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,’” Howard continued.
Howards’ shocking admission set off a range of responses on social media, with many sharing and reposting deadpan memes that read, “I too was asked to play Harriet Tubman.”
While the movie took over 25 years in production, we clearly can confirm that Roberts was never given the role. Harriet, directed by Eve’s Bayou filmmaker Kasi Lemmons, stars Cynthia Erivo in the lead role. The movie was released on November 1 and made $12M during its opening weekend.
The movie primarily focuses on Tubman’s induction as one of the most prolific conductors of the Underground Railroad, where it is estimated she helped a multitude of slaves find their way to freedom. Harriet Tubman continued her foray into activism work by becoming a leader of the abolitionist movement and as a woman’s rights activist, becoming one of the foremothers of the modern day womanist movement.