Gregory Allen Howard has been trying to write a movie about Harriet Tubman for 25 years. In 2019, his movie, Harriet, was finally released. But it was a long struggle to get there, which he chronicles in a new article in The Los Angeles TimesThe whole piece is worth reading, but the lede is a doozy. In it, Howard details an early meeting about his script (then called Freedom Fire) and a studio executive who wanted to hire Julia Roberts to play Harriet Tubman.

Yes, that Julia Roberts. And yes, that Harriet Tubman.

Here is how Howard describes the scene:

Picture 1994: ‘This is a great script. Let’s get Julia Roberts to play Harriet Tubman,’ said the then-president of a studio sublabel. 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.’

Julia Roberts is a wonderful actor. But she is not Harriet Tubman. (In the finished film, she’s played by Cynthia Erivo.)

Sadly, I doubt this is the only story like this that Howard has from his time pitching Harriet and other projects around Hollywood. Now that he and director Kasi Lemmons finally brought his passion project to the screen, maybe he can write a script about the movie business, and his time traveling through the sort of industry where someone in a position of enormous power might suggest casting Julia Roberts as Harriet Tubman. I’d like to see that movie too.

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