The screenwriter and producer of the new Harriet Tubman biopic, “Harriet,” has revealed how a studio executive once suggested white actor Julia Roberts should play the lead role of the Black activist.
Gregory Allen Howard claimed in a Los Angeles Times article published Tuesday that the unnamed president of a studio sublabel was undeterred when “a single black person” in the 1994 meeting pointed out how the 19th-century abolitionist (who was born into slavery) was Black.
“That was so long ago. No one will know that,” the executive reportedly responded.
Roberts has not publicly commented on the claim and it’s likely she never even heard about the idea. Her representatives did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.
But the revelation about the suggested casting of the Academy Award winner set Twitter alight. Many people cracked jokes about Scarlett Johansson, who caused controversy in 2017 with her role in “Ghost in the Shell.” Critics accused Johansson of whitewashing the original source material (Masamune Shirow’s Japanese manga comic), which depicted her character as an Asian woman.
Was Scarlett Johansson unavaible for the role?
— Mel (@mel7pass) November 20, 2019
— Angel Huracha (@AngelHuracha) November 20, 2019
If you’re chasing a Hollywood dream and feel doubtful you’ll ever make it, remember there are executives getting paid shit loads of money to suggest JULIA ROBERTS should play Harriet Tubman. A jar of cockroaches is more qualified than some of these people so DON’T GIVE UP.
— Jordan Crucchiola (@JorCru) November 20, 2019
If Julia Roberts can play Harriet Tubman then damn it Scarlett Johansson can play...oh wait. Hollywood is wild, man. People of color, friends in the industry, stay sane and grounded as you deal with this madness. Laugh at the absurdity if possible.
— Wajahat "Abu Khadija" Ali (@WajahatAli) November 20, 2019
What I imagine the tension in the room was like in that general meeting when that studio exec suggested to Julia Roberts that she could play Harriet Tubman.
— Matthew A. Cherry (@MatthewACherry) November 20, 2019
Y'all talking about Julia Roberts when Scarlett Johansson is available.
— 𝖍𝖔𝖑𝖎𝖉𝖆𝖞 𝖘𝖟𝖓 𝕿𝖗𝖆𝖛𝖎𝖘. (@tdnewyork97) November 20, 2019
Can’t believe that some studio head wanted to cast Julia Roberts as Harriet Tubman! pic.twitter.com/LM1yBF1XiR
— Nancy Wang Yuen (@nancywyuen) November 20, 2019
Thinking about Julia Roberts as Harriet Tubman like pic.twitter.com/TUDctSEB0u
— Allahpundit (@allahpundit) November 20, 2019
Scarlett Johansson would be perfect for the role
— The Chosen One (@RaulSantos_3) November 20, 2019
NOT ONE PERSON:
Hollywood Exec: Julia Roberts should play Harriet Tubman! pic.twitter.com/N5pfAui20k
— Lorenzo Graddi (@grvddi) November 20, 2019
They really was going to try to push Julia Roberts to play Harriet Tubman because it was “so long ago” and “know one would notice.” pic.twitter.com/SyM4y6Cn3D
— ✨🐝 Jennifer L. (@MsJLaw) November 20, 2019
scarlett johansson was right there pic.twitter.com/jUZFz3pRNS
— 𝐛𝐚𝐛𝐲 𝐲𝐨𝐝𝐚’𝐬 𝐛𝐚𝐛𝐲𝐬𝐢𝐭𝐭𝐞𝐫 (@potaylortotstoo) November 20, 2019
“Harriet,” released earlier this month with Cynthia Erivo in the title role, documents Tubman’s 1849 escape from slavery and her subsequent assisting of hundreds of other slaves to break free.
Howard detailed his “epic 25-year journey” of getting the film made in the Times’ op-ed ― recalling unreturned phone calls, racist rejections and his ultimate benefiting from the “sea change” in Hollywood’s appetite for Black history stories that came about with the awards success of “12 Years a Slave” and the box office earnings of “Black Panther.”
Check out the trailer here:
Also on HuffPost
This article originally appeared on HuffPost.