21:13 GMT14 May 2021
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    Several actresses had been rumoured to star in Harriet, a 2019 American biographical film based on the life of abolitionist Harriet Tubman, who escaped slavery and led hundreds of enslaved people to freedom on the Underground Railroad. British actress Cynthia Erivo was eventually cast as Tubman.

    In a recent interview, “Harriet” screenwriter Gregory Allen Howard said that when determining casting for the biopic, a Hollywood executive had allegedly floated the idea of Julia Roberts playing the iconic abolitionist and activist Harriet Tubman.

    In a Q&A for “Harriet” studio Focus Features, as well as a piece for the LA Times, Howard was asked about the production history of the film, his first Hollywood assignment at the time.

    The screenwriter said the climate in Hollywood was very different back then, and recalled being told about one “then-president of a studio sublabel” allegedly saying at a meeting: "This script is fantastic. Let's get Julia Roberts to play Harriet Tubman."

    Howard wrote in the Times piece:

    “Fortunately, there was a single black person in that studio meeting 25 years ago who told him that Harriet Tubman was a black woman. The president replied, 'That was so long ago. No one will know that.'"

    Eager to voice their opinions on the story, netizens were split in their comments, with many genuinely disgusted by the alleged incident.

    ​Some users deplored the fact that actress Julia Robert’s name was trending in connection with the story, pointing out she had nothing to do with this narrative.

    ​Others on Twitter were skeptical, and recalled recent instances of “unorthodox” casting.

    ​Some wondered if the incident ever really happened, as it sounded more like an “urban legend."

    Others argued that the incident might very well have happened.

    ​There were Twitter fans who genuinely believed the alleged studio executive may have been oblivious as to who Tubman was.

    In the Q&A, Howard credited the success of films like “12 Years A Slave” and “Black Panther”, with black themes and black actors, for paving the way for “Harriet.”

    “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. That’s exactly what I wanted — to make her story accessible to a mass audience.”

    The film Harriet, which had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on 10 September 2019, and was released theatrically in the United States on 1 November, is a biographical film about Harriet Tubman who was born into slavery but escaped and became an abolitionist.

    The iconic political activist helped rescue 70 people from similar circumstances using what became known as the Underground Railroad.

    Directed by Kasi Lemmons, who wrote the screenplay with Gregory Allen Howard, it stars British actress Cynthia Erivo as Tubman.

    A biography about Harriet Tubman had been in the works for years, with several actresses rumoured to star, with Erivo eventually cast in February 2017.


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