Harriet, the historical film based on Harriet Tubman’s role in abolition and the Civil War, had been in the works for 25 years until Disney executives finally saw its potential. Greg Allen Howard, a screenwriter known for Remember the Titans and Ali, had written Harriet in hopes of telling more stories about the black experience.

Hollywood has not always been the most racially inclusive and back then getting these kind of stories on the big screen involved many obstacles. The industry has been shamelessly known for casting white people as people of color in films and for portraying inaccurate, distasteful stereotypes of marginalized peoples.

Howard admitted in an essay that when the studio executives picked up the script in 1994 they suggested that in the film the revolutionary antislavery activist be played by Julia Roberts. Howard pointed out to the executives that Tubman was black and to his dismay they replied, “That was so long ago. No one will know that.”

Luckily, the role was assigned to Cynthia Erivo in 2017, in which she plays the part cleverly and is on her way to potentially winning an Oscar. The seasoned performer has already won an Emmy, Grammy and Tony thanks to her work in The Color Purple so is one step closer to joining the exclusive EGOT club.

 

After many years of change and the successes that diverse movies have brought to the industry, Howard explains that Harriet was made possible. With the financial successes of movies like 12 Years A Slave and Black Panther, Hollywood proved that audiences responded well to black stories and that there needed to be more.

“The climate [has] changed. I am enjoying the warmth of the Hollywood climate change and the diverse stories that are bathing in that sunlight, happy that Harriet’s other journey is now finally complete,” the screenwriter concluded.

Harriet made its debut in theaters on November 1 and can be viewed at your local theater today.