Hollywood executive wanted Julia Roberts to play Harriet Tubman, report says

(CNN/Gray News) - In an interview, screenwriter Gregory Allen Howard said a Hollywood executive suggested Julia Roberts play Harriet Tubman in a biopic.

Screenwriter Gregory Allen Howard said in the 90s, a Hollywood executive suggested Julia Roberts play Harriet Tubman in a biopic. (Source: CNN)

Howard shared the story in an interview with Focus Features, describing the 26-year journey it took to get Tubman’s story told on the big screen.

Howard said the incident happened in the 1990s after he had moved to Los Angeles. After the executive suggested Roberts to play the lead part, another person said she couldn’t play Tubman. According to Howard, the executive said that Tubman’s story happened “so long ago. No one is going to know the difference.”

Howard did not name the executive in the interview, and it’s not clear if anyone actually approached Roberts about the role.

Tubman is an iconic African-American activist who escaped slavery and then helped hundreds of others find freedom during the U.S. Civil War-era through the Underground Railroad.

“Harriet” portrays Tubman’s life from about 1849 to the Civil War. Actress Cynthia Eriva, who plays Tubman, spoke to CNN about the importance of the role, saying, “I think in particularly women of color need someone to see and know that has gone before them and has done really great work, has changed the world, so we know we can do the same, so that we’re encouraged to continue doing the work that we do and continue to change the world the way we want it to be changed.”

The casting of Eriva, a British actress, also was criticized.

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