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Cynthia Erivo On Controversy In Playing Harriet Tubman: 'I Was Naive'

HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 27: Cynthia Erivo attends the 92nd Oscars Nominees Luncheon on January 27, 2020 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage)

Cynthia Erivo On Controversy In Playing Harriet Tubman: 'I Was Naive'

The Oscar nominee sat down with Roxane Gay.

PUBLISHED ON : JANUARY 31, 2020 / 12:19 PM

Written by BET Staff

Cynthia Erivo received an Oscar nomination for playing freedom fighter Harriet Tubman in Harriet. However, the role was met with controversy.  Some people, mainly on Twitter, argued that a Nigeran-British actress should not play the icon also known as Moses. In a sit down with writer Roxane Gay for The Hollywood Reporter, the Tony winner opened up about the backlash.

Erivo said, “At first I was naive, because I didn't know that it would be a huge problem for me to play this woman, because I had come from playing African American women onstage.”

She continued, “Then I took stock. Valid points had been made, but I do think that there is a discussion to be had between African Americans and black British actors about the experiences we share on either side of the pond. There are misconceptions that come along with this business that we haven't been able to have a discussion about. And the fact is, I'm a storyteller, and my aim is not to slight anyone. My aim is to be prepared enough to tell a story.”

She also added, “There's a conversation to be had about the specific experiences we each have in the business on either side of the pond. You'll see that there's a pattern of a lack [of work] for both parties. When something like this [role] comes along, there's a want for it because it doesn't come along very often, whereas it should. These kind of roles should come along far more often. It's sad that we have to fight among ourselves because of it.”

Despite the controversy, Harriet was a box office and critical success. The film grossed $3.9 million the first day of its release. As of now, the movie, which was directed by the iconic Kasi Lemmons, has grossed $43.3 million. That is a huge profit considering the budget was $17 million.

Erivo is up for two Oscars for Harriet -- Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role and Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Song), which is for the track “The Stand.”

Erivo is the only Black actor nominated for an acting category this year.

(Photo: Steve Granitz/WireImage)


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