Actress Julia Roberts Was Originally Suggested To Play Harriet Tubman and Free Slaves In Biopic Film, Before Cynthia Erivo, Film’s Producer Revealed

It’s Black History Month and many historical figures are rightfully being highlighted in this time.  Much ado has been given to abolitionist and activist Harriet Tubman for her many works for African Americans in history.  Born Araminta Ross, Tubman is known to have led a plethora of missions to help in the aid of freeing enslaved people via the Underground Railroad.  Though she passed in 1913, her legacy is a strong one that continues to live on to this day.

In 2016 it was announced that plans were in process to place Tubman on the twenty-dollar bill, removing President Andrew Jackson to the rear of the bill.  Those plans were put to a stop during the Trump administration, until recently when it was announced that the current administration would resume the Obama-era plans.  

“The Treasury Department is taking steps to resume efforts to put Harriet Tubman on the front of the new $20 notes,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki in response to a reporter’s question. “It’s important that our … money reflects the history and diversity of our country and Harriet Tubman’s image gracing the new $20 note would certainly reflect that.” Though no date has been given, they do hope to expedite the process. 

Through the years there have been many artistic depictions of Tubman’s life, including the most recent film adaptation starring Cynthia Erivo in Harriet.  “I first saw her when the other producers flew me to New York to see her in The Color Purple,” the film’s screenwriter and producer, Gregory Allen Howard said in an L.A. Times essay. “As soon as she opened her mouth, I thought, ‘Yes, that’s Harriet.’ Afterwards I emailed the other producers, ‘That’s Harriet. She’s a little stick of dynamite.’”

But could you imagine someone else playing the role of the African American freedom fighter, namely a white woman?  According to Allen, Julia Roberts was once brought up in consideration as the title star.

“I was told how one studio head said in a meeting, ‘This script is fantastic. Let’s get Julia Roberts to play Harriet Tubman,’” Allen explained as he recalled how different Hollywood’s climate was years ago. “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.’”

Thankfully, that never happened and the Erivo-led film went on to be a success.  Cynthia Erivo received acclaim for her portrayal, including an Oscar nomination for Best Actress.  

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