Studio Execs Wanted Julia Roberts to Play Harriet Tubman

Earlier this month, a small independent biopic about Harriet Tubman called Harriet opened to mixed reviews and a decent enough box office take to be profitable but not exactly a blockbuster. But before being released, Harriet spent nearly 25 years in production hell, and that lead to one particularly interesting tidbit: a number of actresses had been considered for the role over the years and at one point at least one studio executive wanted Julia Roberts to play the famous abolitionist.

Yes, Variety set off an Internet firestorm when they mentioned that the director of Harriet had shared an anecdote about Roberts being considered for the lead role.

According to Howard, a “then-president of a studio sublabel” praised the script and then suggested Roberts play Tubman. “Fortunately, there was a single black person in that studio meeting 25 years ago who told him that Harriet Tubman was a black woman,” Howard wrote in the Times piece. “The president replied, ‘That was so long ago. No one will know that.’”

Now this seems ridiculous, but “color-blind casting” has been quite the trend in Hollywood lately; even Broadway has hopped on board with the mega-hit Hamilton, a play that asks what the world would be like if The Capital Steps were black but not any more talented.

And of course it was a pretty major story when the last Fantastic Four movie cast Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm. I’d wager more people had an opinion on that on social media than actually saw the film in theaters, so, you know, around 10-20. That was also a pretty funny story, we can take a look at how that went.

Executive One: You know, this Fantastic Four film is kind of white. We might do better if we cast a black actor as one of the main characters.

Executive Two: That’s a great idea, but which character? We should rule out The Thing since he’s mostly CGI.

Exec One: So that leaves the genius scientist team leader, his girlfriend, also a genius scientist, and her brother, an angry mechanic. Hmmm.

Exec Two: Hmmm.

Exec One: Hmmm.

Exec Two: So should we make the black mechanic’s sister black, too?

Exec One: I don’t see why, we can just make one of them adopted.

Exec Two: What about the villain? What is he?

Exec One: He is a… genius scientist with magical powers.

Exec Two: So all the genius scientists are white and the angry mechanic is black.

Exec One: Don’t forget the rock monster is Jewish.

Exec Two: We are doing so much for racial equality I’ll bet we get a Humanitas Award and an NAACP Image Award for this.

Exec One: And if people don’t watch it, we’ll just call them racist!

Thrilling stuff. Luckily, over the years Hollywood has really gotten its act together with films like Black Panther, a film about how fighting against racism and colonialism is bad and black people should just trust the CIA. Oh.

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