Social media was astonished when it was reported that Oscar winner Julia Roberts was considered to play freedom fighter Harriet Tubman. Now, the family of Tubman is speaking out.
Harriet’s great-great-great-grandniece, Tina Wyatt, told TMZ that African-Americans would have boycotted a film with Roberts as Tubman. She explained, “Our history was important and it is important. We know the difference. It was important years ago before it was in our history books. When I was a child it was important but we were taught our history through our families, we were taught our history through our churches. We were not ignorant.”
She also stressed that it was an insult for anyone to think that people, especially African-Americans, would not know the freedom fighter was a Black woman.
In case you missed it, Gregory Allen Howard, the screenwriter and producer of “Harriet,” told Entertainment Weekly that when he first pitched the film in 1994, a studio head brought up Roberts to play Tubman.
“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,” Howard said. “I was told how one studio head said in a meeting, ‘This script is fantastic. Let’s get Julia Roberts to play Harriet Tubman.'”
Howard claimed the studio head said, “It was so long ago. No one is going to know the difference.'”
Cynthia Erivo starred as Tubman in “Harriet,” which is directed by Kasi Lemmons. On opening weekend, the Focus Features film brought in $12 million from 2,059 theaters, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Thus, making “Harriet” the 13th-best opening ever for Focus. The film was only expected to bring in between $7.5 million to $9 million.
The film was also comprised of a diverse mixture of actors, but the success was driven by African-Americans. The Hollywood Reporter wrote that “African-Americans made up 49 percent of tickets buyers, followed by Caucasians (36 percent), Hispanics (8 percent) and Asian/other (7 percent),” according to PostTrak. “Nearly 60 percent of the audience was 35 and older, including almost 40 percent over 45.”
As of now, the film has grossed over $32 million at the box office. This is despite controversies such as, criticism and outrage over someone who isn’t American, Erivo, who was born in London but her parents are from Nigeria playing Tubman — although Tubman’s maternal grandmother was from Africa.
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