The recently released Harriet Tubman biopic, Harriet, starring Cynthia Erivo, has had a controversial roll out. Many have expressed their disapproval in the fact that Erivo was tapped to play the title role of the iconic abolitionist. The controversy stems from a string of tweets circa 2013, in which Erivo, who is British, appeared to mock Black Americans and their "ghetto American accent." She's been canceled by many Black folks ever since, so her casting as a Black American historical figure was met with resistance.
Turns out, the casting of Harriet Tubman could have been even worse.
The story took an unexpected turn when, weeks after the film premiered, the film's screenwriter and producer, Gregory Allen Howard, revealed that, two decades ago, a studio executive strongly suggested that Pretty Woman star Julia Roberts portray Tubman in the film. Yeah, you read that right.
In a Q&A published earlier this month by Harriet studio Focus Features, Allen explained the strange story while recalling how "the climate in Hollywood... was very different" 25 years ago.
"I was told how one studio head said in a meeting, 'This script is fantastic. Let's get Julia Roberts to play Harriet Tubman,'" he said. "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.'"
Luckily, Roberts was not cast as the American abolitionist and political activist. However, Allen's story, and particularly the unnamed exec's comment, has left a sour taste in the mouths of those who read the Q&A, with many admitting that while the remark is shocking, it's not at all surprising to read. Take a look at their reactions below:
Others believe, though, that this random story is all a ploy by Focus Features to distract potential moviegoers from the film's current star Cynthia Erivo's past controversial comments about African-Americans.
Erivo has had a well-documented online history of expressing and supporting negative sentiments expressed about African-American heritage and culture. One particular Twitter user detailed the actress' jokes about putting on a "ghetto American accent," and her public defense of Nigerian writer Luvvie Ajayi (who herself has come under fire for derogatory statements about African-Americans).
Somehow, a weird story about whitewashing turned into another reason to bash Erivo for portraying Tubman.
See how Twitter linked Erivo's past to Allen's recent story below:
(Photos from left: JEAN-BAPTISTE LACROIX/AFP via Getty Images, Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for LACMA)
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