Harriet director responds to Julia Roberts casting controversy

Harriet director Kasi Lemmons believes “things have changed” since a studio executive suggested Julia Roberts play African-American abolitionist Harriet Tubman in a biopic.Gregory Allen Howard, who co-wrote the Harriet screenplay with Lemmons, hit head…

Harriet director Kasi Lemmons believes “things have changed” since a studio executive suggested Julia Roberts play African-American abolitionist Harriet Tubman in a biopic.

Gregory Allen Howard, who co-wrote the Harriet screenplay with Lemmons, hit headlines last month when he revealed that an unnamed studio head suggested the Pretty Woman actress portray the activist during a meeting in 1994.

Many social media users expressed outrage about the controversial suggestion, and during an interview with Variety, the director took an optimistic stance on the news, saying the response proves how much times have changed.

“It was a long time ago and things have changed. (The uproar) does go to show you how far we’ve come,” Lemmons said. “I think it has happened a lot. In fact, it’s happened a lot and not that long ago. We do have to be careful and check ourselves … (But) we’ve learned a lot since then. And in fact, in some ways, the way of approaching docu-drama is completely different than it was 25 years ago.”

Producer Debra Martin Chase said she’d heard the story long ago but had forgotten about it by the time it resurfaced.

“I wasn’t surprised. That’s how it used to be. People would say crazy stuff like that and get away with it. They would not be ashamed to say whatever they thought. That was the climate in this town – hostile,” she commented.

Roberts and Cynthia Erivo, who plays Tubman in the biopic, have yet to comment on the story, but actress Viola Davis recently weighed on the issue, calling it “ridiculous”.

In his original interview with Focus Features, Howard recalled, “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.'”

© Cover Media

Cynthia Erivo urges critics to support Harriet Tubman biopic

Cynthia Erivo has called on critics to support her new film about legendary African-American abolitionist Harriet Tubman.The British actress portrays the anti-slavery activist in the new movie Harriet, but her casting upset some who believed the part s…

Cynthia Erivo has called on critics to support her new film about legendary African-American abolitionist Harriet Tubman.

The British actress portrays the anti-slavery activist in the new movie Harriet, but her casting upset some who believed the part should have gone to an African-American.

Erivo is sympathetic to their views, but now the film is about to be released, she is convinced supporting the project is the best way to provide future opportunities for more women of colour to put their spin on Tubman, who escaped slavery to help free others via the network of secret routes and safe houses known as the Underground Railroad.

“I understand that people would feel strongly about this woman (Tubman) because she means a lot to a lot of people,” Erivo said during an appearance on The TODAY Show. “But I think the thing that is really important is this is the first time we’re getting to see her (story in Hollywood), and really and truly, I hope that people come out to support this, so we can make more.

“It’s not a story that should be told in one film, it’s definitely a story that lasts and lasts. She was 91 years old by the time that she died, and she did a lot of work in her time.

“Hopefully, this just opens doors for many other actresses.”

Directed by Kasi Lemmons, Harriet also co-stars Joe Alwyn, Leslie Odom Jr., and Jennifer Nettles. The movie opens in U.S. cinemas on 1 November.

© Cover Media