Come on, man. There’s no way possible way that anyone could be this stupid, right? Right? Even 25 years ago?
Maybe this is something else we can blame on Harvey Weinstein (via Instapundit):
Harriet, the historical drama based on Tubman’s life released earlier this month, stars Cynthia Erivo. But the film’s screenwriter and producer, Gregory Allen Howard, says when he first started working on the movie in 1994 that one studio executive suggested Julia Roberts to portray the legendary slave turned abolitionist. Yes, that Julia Roberts.
In a Q&A with Allen published earlier this month by Harriet studio Focus Features (and reiterated in an L.A. Times essay published Tuesday), Allen recalled how “the climate in Hollywood … was very different” some 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,’” Allen explained. “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.’”
In another (unrelated) part of the interview, Howard explains the use of some composite characters as necessary for good filmmaking. “People don’t pay for historical accuracy,” Howard notes, “they pay for a good story.” True enough, but Julia Roberts as Harriet Tubman? I suspect that kind of historical inaccuracy might actually matter, as it clearly did to Howard. I mean, I think most complaints about cultural appropriation are vastly overblown, but … dude.
Is this really a believable story? Howard tells the same story in that LA Times essay detailing all of the difficulties he had bringing Harriet Tubman’s story to the silver screen, so at least he’s consistent, but still … It’s very, very difficult to believe anyone could be that ignorant, but then again, consider much of Hollywood’s product.
What I could believe is that some Hollywood exec made a pitch like this: “Well, we can’t make Tubman the main character. So let’s set this up by having a white woman be conflicted between the horror of slavery and the risks of standing up for what’s right. She meets Tubman, changes her mind, and stands up to her friends and society in order to briefly help Tubman escape a jam. And then the lead can be Julia Roberts!”
Hey, that formula sold in several high-profile Hollywood films about the civil rights movement made in the 198os and 1990s. Julia Roberts didn’t star in any of them, to my recollection, but a bunch of other A-listers did. While Howard’s story may be a little tough to believe, I don’t doubt that Howard had to fight for 25 years to make a Harriet Tubman film that actually focused on Harriet Tubman. I’m hoping to see it soon, because it is a great story and should make for a great film.
This segment from CBS This Morning raises another form of cultural appropriation, though. Should Harriet‘s producers have cast as British woman rather than an African-American in the lead role? Come on, man …
A studio executive allegedly once suggested Julia Roberts play black civil rights pioneer Harriet Tubman in a biopic.
The iconic abolitionist and activist is played by British actress Cynthia Erivo in the movie out now. #WhatToWatch https://t.co/RWZAzOl5r9 pic.twitter.com/WqzV3bLzZz
— CBS This Morning (@CBSThisMorning) November 20, 2019