A relative of Harriet Tubman reacted to the story shared by Harriet screenwriter Gregory Allen Howard in which a Hollywood executive in the '90s suggested casting Julia Roberts as the woman who freed countless slaves.
Tubman's great-great-great-grandniece Tina Wyatt told TMZ that the mere suggestion that a white woman play Tubman is incredibly disrespectful and went on to say that the black community would not stand for a whitewashed version of Tubman's story.
"What do you think would have happened?" Wyatt said. "You would have had a boycott." See her full response below:
News of that long-ago meeting and the bad ideas Howard deftly avoided in the long process of getting Harriet made came to light in a piece Q&A with Howard for Focus Features. The writer behind Remember the Titans and Ali said that “the climate in Hollywood…was very different” when he first began pitching Tubman's story.
He said the executive doubled down on the choice of Roberts, saying the public wouldn't know Tubman was not white because the story was about 150 years in the past.
“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 said. “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.'”
The role eventually went to Cynthia Erivo, easing the fears of everyone and avoiding the world's most-avoidable controversy.