In November, Gregory Allen Howard, the co-writer of Kasi Lemmons’s Harriet Tubman biopic, said that nearly 25 years ago an unnamed studio executive wanted Julia Roberts to play Tubman. “It was so long ago. No one is going to know the difference,” he said about the fact that Roberts couldn’t possibly play Tubman.
At one point, Viola Davis was attached to the role before it went to Cynthia Erivo in Lemmons’s film, but the director says she isn’t surprised by the ridiculous casting suggestion. “That’s how it used to be. People would say crazy stuff like that and get away with it,” she told Variety. “They would not be ashamed to say whatever they thought. That was the climate in this town — hostile.”
Hollywood will do some crazy shit, like make a movie about Christian Bale and Matt Damon racing fast cars (please don’t email me to tell me the actual plot of this movie). But it’s safe to say that egregious whitewashing like casting Julia Roberts as one of the most famous black women in history doesn’t fly anymore. “[The uproar] does go to show you how far we’ve come,” Lemmons added. Agreed, and frankly, every studio executive needs to be afraid of being roasted to death. Nobody, nobody, forgets the stupid things you say in meetings!