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Julia Roberts Was Suggested to Play Harriet Tubman, ‘Harriet’ Screenwriter Says

Cynthia Erivo has received widespread acclaim for her portrayal of Harriet Tubman in Kasi Lemmons’ biopic “Harriet.” But according to the movie’s screenwriter Gregory Allen Howard, Julia Roberts — yes, that Julia Roberts — was once suggested by a studio executive to play the role.

In a Q&A for “Harriet” studio Focus Features as well as a piece for the L.A Times, Howard explained he had been working on the script for a Harriet Tubman biopic as far back as 25 years ago, but that “the climate in Hollywood…was very different back then.”

According to Howard, a “then-president of a studio sublabel” praised the script and then suggested Roberts play Tubman. “Fortunately, there was a single black person in that studio meeting 25 years ago who told him that Harriet Tubman was a black woman,” Howard wrote in the Times piece. “The president replied, ‘That was so long ago. No one will know that.'”

In the Q&A, Howard went on to credit “12 Years A Slave” and “Black Panther” for paving the way for a film like “Harriet,” which Allen describes as turning Tubman’s life into an action-adventure movie.

“When I started on ‘Harriet,’ many people dealing with black material were writing history lessons — which I hated,” he continued. “I saw her story as a genre piece. I remember someone asking, ‘Is Harriet Tubman really supposed to be a superhero?’ That’s exactly what I wanted — to make her story accessible to a mass audience.”

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