Cynthia Erivo recently brought Harriet Tubman to life in Kasi Lemmons‘ biopic Harriet. But back in the 1990s, things could’ve gone very, very differently. According to Harriet screenwriter Gregory Allen Howard, an attempt to get the movie made back in 1994 resulted in one studio executive suggesting Julia Roberts for the role of the African-American abolitionist.
Hollywood has a bad habit of whitewashing certain roles, but this might be the most egregious example to date. Gregory Allen Howard, screenwriter of Harriet, has been working on getting the film made for at 25 years, and back in the ’90s, one studio head had a questionable to say the least casting idea to play the famous abolitionist.
As Allen said during a recent Q&A:
“Harriet, which was set up at Disney 26 years ago, was my first assignment. When I got in the business, I wanted to tell these historical stories by turning them into entertainment. I didn’t want to give history lessons. I wanted to turn Harriet Tubman’s life, which I’d studied in college, into an action-adventure movie. The climate in Hollywood, however, was very different back then. 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.'”
Thankfully, the Julia Roberts-starring Harriet never happened – not to say Roberts would’ve even accepted the part, of course. In any case, Howard’s statement shows how clueless and tone-deaf certain people with positions of power can be. While I think Hollywood has improved in the years since they still have a long way to go.
Howard went on to add that the Harriet languished, unmade, for years, until the success of two films: “ When 12 Years a Slave became a hit and did a couple hundred million dollars worldwide, I told my agent, ‘You can’t say this kind of story won’t make money now.’ Then Black Panther really blew the doors open.” Mercifully, when Harriet finally did get made, no one suggested Julia Roberts for the lead again.
Multiple-award-winning actress Cynthia Erivo has entered Golden Globes race with two nominations, one for her starring performance as famous abolitionist and American hero Harriet Tubman in the Focus Features biopic, Harriet, as well as for the film’s original song Stand Up which co-wrote with Joshuah Brian Campbell.
“Finally, we get to see her,” proclaimed Erivo while speaking to Deadline following this morning’s announcements. “I think she's been a picture for so long or a monument. Our history books don't really talk about her life. She's almost a paragraph and only a paragraph. Now we get to at least have an image. We get to know a little bit more of who she was as a person. Hopefully what that will do is encourage more storytellers to tell her story again and again.”
Through the song, Erivo “wanted to reencourage people to know that we have a responsibility to fight just like she did.”
“I wanted people to know that the work that she did was special and important. I wanted to pay homage to who she was and what she had done and the legacy she had left behind which is probably why it ends with the line 'I go to prepare a place for you' which was her final line [before she passed away]”
Going from one iconic female figure to another, Erivo will be taking on the role of legendary crooner Aretha Franklin in the National Geographic anthology series, Genius.
“We are flipping through about 30 years of her life, from the 60s into the 90s, and we're going back and forth in time. So you're seeing where she is now and where she's come from as a little girl and what led to her the performer. It's an exploration of how she's a genius and how her genius came about, the way in which she makes her music and the influences that took her there,” said Erivo.
“So it's about, for me, the reading and learning of her music, which I know efficiently because I've been singing it since I was a little girl, and now reintroducing myself to her and getting to know her on a more personal basis. She's an interesting woman with a full and, at times, a heartbreaking life but somehow managed to come through all of that and create brilliance.”
On how the two roles relate to one another, Erivo remarked, “For me, it's about telling the story of women who on the outset are very different but who have a particular kind of strength and they strive to be great not because of anyone other than themselves. They somehow find steel within themselves that tells them what they are supposed to be doing. They find their purpose and go straight forward.”
Homecoming‘s Sam Esmail is bringing another podcast to television.
He’ll executive produce Gaslit, a drama that focuses on the “untold stories and forgotten characters” of Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal. The series is based on the popular podcast Slow Burn, which debuted in 2017, and the TV adaptation has lined up an impressive cast: Julia Roberts, Sean Penn, Armie Hammer, and Joel Edgerton are all set to star.
Deadline brings word about the adaptation, which will have Robbie Pickering Mr. Robot, Search Party on board as the showrunner. Joel Edgerton and his brother, Nash Edgerton, who have been a part of a filmmaking collective for years and have directed four features, 17 episodes of television, and a handful of shorts between them, will direct and executive produce this show.
Gaslit is a modern take on Watergate that focuses on the untold stories and forgotten characters of the scandal, from Nixon’s bumbling, opportunistic subordinates, to the deranged zealots aiding and abetting their crimes, to the tragic whistleblowers who would eventually bring the whole rotten enterprise crashing down.
Penn plays John Mitchell, the ruthless, temperamental, loudmouthed Attorney General, trusted advisor, and best friend of President Richard Nixon. Roberts is playing his wife Martha, who ends up being “the first person to publicly sound the alarm on Nixon’s involvement in Watergate, causing both the Presidency and her personal life to unravel.” Her decision puts her husband in a bind: does he choose his wife, or his President?
Hammer is portraying John Dean, the White House lawyer “torn between his ambition and his struggle with whether he can lie to protect the President.” Edgerton is set to play G. Gordon Liddy, the former FBI agent who finds himself as the primary operative of Nixon’s “Plumbers” unit, who is “tasked with plugging embarrassing leaks in the wake of the Pentagon Papers.”
As you can tell, there’s absolutely no relevance whatsoever to anything happening in today’s American political landscape. None.
“Now more than ever, truth is absolutely stranger than fiction,” Esmail said in a statement. “When Robbie first told me about the Slow Burn podcast, I devoured it instantly. The second I finished it, I felt compelled to bring this story to television especially after watching the cowardice on display during the recent impeachment hearings. To help realize this important chapter in our country’s history, my first call was to the brilliant Julia Roberts. After her captivating performance in Homecoming, I knew Julia was the only person who could tackle the complex role of Martha Mitchell and lead our stellar cast in adapting this bizarre and controversial...