'Ridiculous': Viola Davis on Julia Roberts being considered to play Harriet Tubman
The Academy Award-winner spoke to MadameNoire about the news an executive reportedly suggested Roberts play the historical figure, as well as what she sees as the best way to make sure controversies like this do not happen again.
According to Davis, the casting suggestion may have been "ridiculous," but is something that "happens all the time."
“Here’s the thing, simply put: Julia Roberts as Harriet Tubman is ridiculous," she said in the article published Monday. "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."
"Harriet," a historical film about the life of the slave-turned-abolitionist starred Cynthia Erivo. However, producer Gregory Allen Howard has said that if one executive had his way, Roberts would've played her. Howard began writing the film's screenplay over two decades ago with director Kasi Lemmons.
" 'Harriet,' which was set up at Disney 26 years ago, was my first assignment... Hollywood, however, was very different back then," Howard recalled in an interview with Focus Features, the distributor for "Harriet."
"I was told how one studio head said in a meeting, 'This script is fantastic. Let's get Julia Roberts to play Harriet Tubman,' " he continued. "When someone pointed out that Roberts couldn’t be Harriet, the executive responded, 'It was so long ago. No one is going to know the difference.' " (Howard did not identify the exec who allegedly made the proposal.)
Davis added on the controversy: "Here’s the thing, and this is a four, five-hour conversation... I’m 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.”
The way Davis sees it, the people making these casting decisions should have to answer for themselves, not the actors they pass up for roles.
“You don’t question the people who have not been invited to the party, you question the people who are throwing the party," she added. "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."
She continued: “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? I think that you would get some real concrete answers."
Davis also described how the thought of Roberts playing Tubman doesn't make sense.
"Harriet Tubman was indeed a black woman," she said. "You can go through the history books and see that Harriet Tubman was a black woman. Julia Roberts in a head rag running through the woods is just not going to work! It’s just not going to work. It’s ridiculous. But I think you have to question the person who actually wanted to make that decision, and then I think you would get a real response.”
Contributing: Cydney Henderson