The long-gestating Harriet Tubman biopic directed by Kasi Lemmons and starring Cynthia Erivo is already one of the top-grossing indie films of the year. Lemmons co-wrote the script with Gregory Allen Howard, who also wrote Remember the Titans and Ali.
The film has been in the works for 26 years and was originally in development at Disney. In a Q&A published by Focus Features, Howard said, “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.”
In a true “wait, what?” moment, Howard revealed that a Hollywood studio executive wanted to cast a white actress as Harriet Tubman. “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.'”
Howard went on to say that two films of the past decade changed the way Black films were viewed, making way for Harriet. “Two films really changed the climate in Hollywood to allow Harriet to be made,” he said. “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.”
Harriet is in theaters now.
Photo: Getty Images
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