In an interview published earlier this month, Harriet screenwriter Gregory Allen Howard said a film studio executive once suggested that actress Julia Roberts be cast to play the lead roll of iconic abolitionist Harriet Tubman.
“Harriet, which was set up at Disney 26 years ago, was my first assignment. When I got in the business, I wanted to tell these historical stories by turning them into entertainment. I didn’t want to give history lessons,” Howard explained when asked to give a short history of how the film came together.
“I wanted to turn Harriet Tubman’s life, which I’d studied in college, into an action-adventure movie. The climate in Hollywood, however, was very different back then. I was told how one studio head said in a meeting, ‘This script is fantastic. Let’s get Julia Roberts to play Harriet Tubman.'”
The writer behind hit films like Remember the Titans and Ali continued: “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.'”
Directed by Kasi Lemmons, Harriet stars British actress Cynthia Erivo as Harriet Tubman, who was born a slave, escaped and became the leader of an anti-slavery movement and conductor of what later became known as the Underground Railroad.
The film debuted over the weekend and beat expectation, grossing $12 million from 2,059 theaters. The film currently boasts a 97 audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
In his review (read it here) of Harriet, Breitbart’s John Nolte notes: “Throughout its 125 minute runtime, Harriet is engaging, suspenseful, and rousing, and it still would have been all those things without Cynthia Erivo in the title role. Without her, though, Harriet would have also felt more like a television movie than something worthy of a theatrical release.”