The film Harriet, starring Cynthia Erivo in the lead role of Harriet Tubman, would have had an incorrectly casted star if it were up to a studio executive. The screenwriter for the film says the exec suggested the very-white Julia Roberts should play the famed Underground Railroad conductor.
The film’s producer and screenwriter Gregory Allen Howard has previously told the tale before that back in 1994 when he first began developing the concept of Harriet, he ran into some roadblocks. Allen’s story was retold in an essay he wrote for the Los Angeles Times where he shared how the executives attempted to turn the project into a debacle.
Allen was the lone Black person in the room in a studio meeting with the person who tried to twist Tubman’s narrative, chiming up when the exec said, “That was so long ago. No one will know that” — this in response to Allen reminding the exec of Tubman’s race.
After pitching the film, originally titled Freedom Fire, to several studios, Allen nearly put the idea on the shelf for good but 2013’s 12 Years A Slave gave him the confidence to try again, given the success of that film and its many accolades made Hollywood studios warm up to the idea naturally.
Also, the overwhelming box office success of Marvel’s Black Panther kicked down any remaining doors and thus Harriet was able to get the green light it deserved.
Read Gregory Allen Howard’s tale of persistence and redemption here.