It was reported this week that a Hollywood executive had once pitched Julia Roberts to portray black activist Harriet Tubman in the recently released Tubman biopic Harriet, a decision that one of Tubman's relatives thinks would have led to a boycott of the film.
"You would have had a boycott," Harriet's great-great-great-grandniece, Tina Wyatt, told TMZ. "Because our history was important and it is important, and we know the difference. And it was important years ago, even 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 of those things. So for [the executive] to say that we would not know the difference, that's just straight up disrespectful and it's a slap in the face. It's horrible."
The movie has been in development for years, and its screenwriter and producer Gregory Allen Howard said in a Q&A that was published this month by film studio Focus Features that Roberts was pitched to play the abolitionist during a meeting in 1994.
"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," he 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 said that the suggestion was met with resistance but the executive reportedly replied, "It was so long ago. No one is going to know the difference.'"
Wyatt said that she saw Howard's comments online and was offended by the fact that the executive had insinuated that black people wouldn't know their own history.
"When I read it, and they said, 'Well not many people know...' and I'm saying, 'Are you talking about white people or are you talking about black people?'" she said. "Because if you're talking about white people, well maybe they don't know. And I know that in talking to a lot of white people now, a lot of them don't know, still don't know. But that is the fault of not seeing the history in our books, in our schools and not being shared in that kind of way."
"But if he's talking about African Americans, black people, not knowing...that's an insult," she continued. "It's just straight up an insult."
The role of Tubman ultimately went to British actress Cynthia Erivo and Harriet is currently in theaters.
Photo Credit: Getty / Valerie Macon