Viola Davis Calls the Idea of Julia Roberts Playing Harriet Tubman 'Ridiculous': I'm 'Concerned'

Earlier this month, Harriet screenwriter Gregory Allen Howard revealed that a studio head had once suggested Julia Roberts for the titular role

Viola Davis is responding to the news that a studio executive once suggested Julia Roberts to play abolitionist Harriet Tubman in a movie about her life.

“It happens all of the time [in Hollywood],” Davis, 54, recently told MadameNoire when asked to comment.

“Here’s the thing, simply put: Julia Roberts as Harriet Tubman is ridiculous,” she said. “That barely warrants a response. That’s ridiculous. I understand that the film industry very much is about commerce and money, I get it. But that’s ridiculous.”

Roberts was never involved in the project.

Last week, screenwriter Gregory Allen Howard — who co-wrote the screenplay for this year’s Tubman biopic Harriet — wrote a column in the Los Angeles Times. In the column, he revealed that a studio head had suggested Roberts to play the titular role — and appeared not to know that Tubman was a black woman.

“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. “The president replied, ‘That was so long ago. No one will know that.'”

Davis added that she is “always a little concerned that the people who are questioned about race and diversity and inclusion, are the people in need and not the people in power.”

“You don’t question the people who have not been invited to the party, you question the people who are throwing the party,” she continued. “And the people who are out there who are living in any way, even within this industry, who have the green light vote, who have the power to finance films, who are making those choices to want to cast a Julia Roberts as a Harriet Tubman, this is a better question for them.”

Viola Davis calls Julia Roberts as Harriet Tubman ridiculous
Katie Jones/Variety/Shutterstock; Tommaso Boddi/FilmMagic

“Why is it that you are not armed with enough information and why you don’t see it as important to cast a Black woman as Harriet Tubman? Why is it that you would want to make this decision?” Davis said, adding, “You can go through the history books and see that Harriet Tubman was a Black woman.”

Harriet Tubman Julia Roberts
Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty; Tommaso Boddi/FilmMagic

In a Q&A that was published earlier this month by film studio Focus Features, Howard said that when he started on the path to make Harriet over two and a half decades ago, a studio head suggested Roberts, 52, for the titular role.

“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 told Focus Features. “I was told how one studio head said in a meeting, ‘This script is fantastic. Let’s get Julia Roberts to play Harriet Tubman.’”

Social media users quickly responded to the executive’s obviously since shut-down idea, with people expressing how appalled they were by the idea of a white actress portraying the famous 1800s-era slave-turned-abolitionist.

In Harriet, Tubman is portrayed by black British actress Cynthia Erivo.

Harriet is out in theaters nationwide now.

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