"Harriet" screenwriter Gregory Allen Howard has revealed that a studio executive wanted to cast Hollywood star Julia Roberts for the role of African-American abolitionist and activist Harriet Tubman. The film, which features Cynthia Erivo in the lead, is garnering praise by both the critics and audiences.
In an interview, which film's production house, Focus Features, published on its official website, Howard said he developed the idea for the film in 1994 and it was initially set up at Disney.
"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'," the screenwriter said.
He said the journey of "Harriet" to the screens was made possible by the success of two films -- 2013's "12 Years a Slave", for which Lupita Nyong'o won the best actress Oscar, and "Black Panther", which went on to become a cultural phenomenon and was the first superhero film to be nominated for best picture Academy Award for 2018.
"Two films really changed the climate in Hollywood to allow 'Harriet' to be made. 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," Howard added.
Directed by Kasi Lemmons, "Harriet" also features Leslie Odom Jr, Joe Alwyn, and Janelle Monae. The film released in the US on November 1.
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