The story of Harriet Tubman is currently playing in theaters nationwide with Cynthia Erivo in the titular role. (The movie is simply called Harriet.) But according to the screenwriter, one exec had a very different idea about who should star as the black abolitionist and activist who freed numerous slaves via the Underground Railroad in the 1800s.
That suggestion? Julia Roberts. “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,” writer Gregory Allen Howard said during a Q&A with Focus Features, via People. “I was told how one studio head said in a meeting, ‘This script is fantastic. Let’s get Julia Roberts to play Harriet Tubman.'” Allen said the idea was met with some rather obvious questions, to which the unnamed executive allegedly said, “It was so long ago. No one is going to know the difference.“
People on social media were as confused and outraged as you might be reading about this story. “They want Julia Roberts A WHITE WOMAN to play Harriet Tubman A BLACK ABOLITIONIST who was a SLAVE. Make it make sense,” one Twitter user wrote. “Full offense: if your instinct, when telling a former-slave abolitionist story, is to turn the SLAVE into a WHITE SAVIOR…Just…Even if you ignore the ‘political correctness’ aspect, the blatant disrespect for HISTORY, shows you have no business making this movie, PERIOD,” another tweeted.
Of course, the internet also had some fun—and a side of social commentary—with the rather absurd suggestion.
Of course, no one is implying that Roberts herself had anything to do with the story or the executive’s remarks. She has yet to say anything publicly or via a statement. “Julia Roberts is somewhere minding her damn business….” one Twitter user surmised.
Harriet, not starring Julia Roberts, is playing in theaters nationwide.