Screenwriter Says Exec Suggested Julia Roberts Play Harriet Tubman

The co-writer of "Harriet" has opened up about a shocking casting idea he received regarding who should play legendary abolitionist Harriet Tubman.

In an interview with the film's distributor, Focus Features, published earlier this month, Gregory Allen Howard detailed his 26-year-long journey of turning Harriet Tubman’s life story into an action-adventure film.

The screenwriter recalled being told of a meeting in the '90s in which a studio executive suggested white actress Julia Roberts be cast as the black icon!

"The climate in Hollywood, however, was very different back then," Howard explained. "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 — who also wrote 2000's "Remember the Titans" — reiterated his account in a Los Angeles Times essay published on Tuesday.

On Wednesday's live episode of "The Real," co-host Tamera Mowry-Housley reacted to the baffling story, exclaiming, "That is not okay. That is not okay. Highly offended."

Loni Love brought up the importance of diversity in front of and behind the camera.

"It happened 25 years ago. It was the time that Julia Roberts was the hot thang. You know, with 'Pretty Woman,' and all that kind of stuff," the comic dished. "This is the reason why you have to have diversity when you're making decisions. If it wasn't for that one black screenwriter in that room, we'd probably would've been looking at Harriet Tubman played by Julia Roberts."

Additionally, Mowry-Housley listed recent examples where white actors portrayed characters of color.

"Angelina Jolie played Mariane Pearl. We actually talked about it," she said. "[Pearl is] biracial. And then Joseph Fiennes played Michael Jackson. And this didn't happen 25 years ago."

"A Mighty Heart," murdered journalist Daniel Pearl's story, was released in 2007. Fiennes played Michael Jackson on an episode of "Urban Myths" in 2017.

"Harriet," starring British actress Cynthia Erivo as Tubman is in theaters now.


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