Julia Roberts Was Once Asked to Play Harriet Tubman in a Movie

Hollywood can be a strange place. Even now, well into the 21st century, studios are only beginning to understand what diversity and inclusion genuinely mean. Even with the pushback from the public and actors themselves — that hasn’t stopped some studios from casting white actors in roles meant for people of color. Some of them, like Scarlett Johansson’s role in Ghost in a Shell and Emma Stone’s role in Aloha have been especially egregious.

However, Hollywood once went as far as to suggest Julia Roberts play the iconic freedom fighter and abolitionist Harriet Tubman. At present, we are celebrating the release of Kasi Lemmon’s Harriet. Starring Tony Award winner Cynthia Erivo — Harriet follows the Underground Railroad conductor’s journey to freedom in 1849 through the Civil War, where she served with the Union Army.

However, the movie could have looked totally different. Harriet screenwriter Gregory Allen Howard reveals that back in 1994, wanted Roberts for the role.

A major studio head wanted Julia Roberts to play Harriet Tubman

1994 wasn’t that long ago, but the landscape in Hollywood has changed drastically since then (thankfully). Gregory Allen Howard, who produced and wrote the screenplay for 2019’s Harriet, revealed that he’d been working on another version of Tubman’s story in the ’90s. He told Entertainment Weekly,

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.’

Twitter is obviously outraged by this revelation. One person tweeted, ” “A jar of cockroaches is more qualified than some of these people so DON’T GIVE UP,”  Another added, “Umm..I’m guessing Julia Roberts would very much like to be excluded from this narrative.”

This is why it took so long for a Harriet Tubman movie to be made

The movie was passed over 25 years ago when the studio head was told that “Hollywood’s Sweetheart” could not play a Black woman who was enslaved in the 19th century. Howard explained that no one thought Tubman’s story would be viable in Hollywood until two huge movies changed the game in the past six years. He revealed,

When 12 Years a Slave became a hit and did a couple hundred million dollars worldwide, I told my agent, ‘You can’t say this kind of story won’t make money now.’ Then Black Panther really blew the doors open.

‘Harriet’ is very different from traditional “slave movies”

Since Harriet is helmed by Eve’s Bayou director Kasi Lemmons — a Black woman who is entrenched in the history of both the peculiar institution and slavery — Harriet is a very different “slave movie.”

Though the horrors of slavery are in the background of the film –Lemmons and Howard chose to showcase Tubman’s life and journey through faith and love. In an interview with Stylecaster, Lemmons explained, “Harriet is about the search for freedom and liberation. I loved that she was willing to risk her life and to sacrifice her life for freedom, and to sacrifice her life for others to have freedom.”

What a disaster it would have been to cast Roberts.