Someone alert Scarlett Johansson, because there appears to be someone else in Hollywood who thinks white women should be able to play characters of any race.
Who is the person? An unnamed Hollywood studio exec who once suggested that Julia Roberts play Harriet Tubman in the film “Harriet,” according to the film’s screenwriter, Gregory Allen Howard, who recently recalled hearing the suggestion during a 1994 meeting about making the movie that would come out… a cool 25 years later.
To answer your question: Yes, that Harriet Tubman. You know, the black activist hero who risked her life over and over to help others escape slavery. Apparently, when the only black person in the meeting pointed out the obvious (that Harriet Tubman was black) the exec said, “It was so long ago. No one will notice.” Hm, nope!
There was a different climate in Hollywood back in 1994, so it may be true that people would not have cared as much, but I like to think they would notice that a black American hero we all learned about in school was being played by a white woman. But maybe I am giving us (white people) too much credit. That tends to happen a lot.
Sadly, the fact that Harriet was in development back in 1994 and is just being released now points to how much racism has infected Hollywood. It took 25 years for a movie about a heroic black woman who shaped history to be made. Meanwhile, The Emoji Movie exists and there are approximately 35 Fast and Furious movies. We have got to do better.
This week, screenwriter Gregory Allen Howard penned an essay for the LA Times, which laid out the long and difficult journey of getting this movie made. Originally entitled Freedom Fire, Howard set out to write a script about an American icon that would paint her as an action hero and entertain people, not preach to them. He churned out a script that got great feedback, but ultimately he couldn’t seem to sell it. Why not? Because racism. Back then, Hollywood wasn’t “ready” for a movie that “pushed the envelope” by telling a story about black people.
According to Howard, “The number of doors slammed in my face, the number of passes, the number of unreturned phone calls, canceled meetings, abandonments, racist rejections, the number of producing partners who bailed, are too many to list. ” People were too scared to take a chance on a script this unique and original. Again, Howard hits the nail on the head when he writes, “Nobody in Hollywood wants to be an outlier. Hollywood has a herd mentality.”
So, what changed? The successes of movies like 12 Years a Slave and Black Panther proved to Hollywood power players that audiences did, in fact, want to see black stories being told. Now there was a herd forming, and Hollywood execs were ready to jump on board.
I’m glad to see these changes happening in Hollywood, but it’s sad and disappointing that it takes so much time and repeated effort to prove the obvious: that diverse stories, characters, and representation should have a place in mainstream media. This script was great from the start, the story that inspired it has always been epic, heart-wrenching, and important. The only thing that was lacking was powerful white people willing to think outside their own understanding of success.
Harriet was released in theaters earlier this month and stars Cynthia Erivo and Janelle Monae. Check out the trailer below.
And let’s get Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill already.
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The first of the month is a tricky time, because on the one hand, I’m getting paid, but on the other, my rent is due. Luckily, my rent check doesn’t manage to find its way to my landlord until around 9am, which is four hours after my direct deposit hits, so I’m rich for approximately four hours. It’s the little things. Anyway, let’s be real, we all love the start of a new month because it means new Netflix content, and by content, I mean the ninth season of Shameless and about 100 other shows/movies. An updated Netflix homepage is always exciting, but it’s especially so in September, because it will give you something to do when your friends ask if you want to go apple picking and you realize you’d actually rather rip your eyelashes out one by one. Seriously, if Instagram didn’t exist, would anyone over the age of seven go apple picking?? I digress.
Because Netflix is adding more content to their platform than my sister-in-law to her Instagram story during her bachelorette weekend, I’m going to save you some time and let y’all know which shows/movies are actually worth watching. Full disclosure, after admitting that I thought Tower Heist was a quality film back in the day, I’ve since been accused of having bad taste, so take this list with a grain of salt. Here we go!
Honestly, I blame my test in men on this movie. Like, why couldn’t Patrick Bateman be ugly? If you haven’t seen this movie, now is your moment, because it’s early 2000s amazing. To sum it up, American Psycho is a documentary about mental health. Jokes! It’s a thriller that, tbh, is pretty funny because it’s basically Bruce Wayne’s life if he didn’t become Batman. Does that makes sense? All in all, this is a great movie for any occasion and if any of your friends protest, they should not be a part of your life. That’s all I have to say.
‘The Walking Dead: Season 9’
Look, zombies just aren’t my thing. Sorry if that offends anyone. Obviously this show is good, though, since it has almost as many seasons as Friends! If this also doesn’t sound like your jam, maybe this helpful description from IMDB can change your mind: The Walking Dead tells the story of the months and years that follow after a zombie apocalypse. It follows a group of survivors, led by former police officer Rick Grimes, who travel in search of a safe and secure home. Well? Are you sold?
I mean, is there a movie better than Superbad? Anyone? Bueller? What I love most about it, aside from the period pants scene, is the fact that none of the stars were that famous when it was made. Like, Bill Hader had played very minor parts in a bunch of sh*t I’ve never heard of, Jonah Hill’s only claim to fame (kind of) was the teen version of Adam Sandler’s creepy son in Click, and two roles before her stint on Superbad, Emma Stone guest starred in an episode of The Suite Life of Zack & f*cking Cody. My mind is truly blown. Anyway, the fact that this movie is so amazing even though it stars Michael “Whiney Boy” Cera essentially playing himself is a tribute to quality films everywhere. If the whole McLovin storyline was taken out, this movie would be like a more realistic version of Project X. My point is that Superbad is a great example of a perfect movie. Watch it.
‘Shameless: Season 9′
Emmy Rossum in Shameless is legit my spirit animal. She’s obv the definition of a hot mess, but I love her for it. Remember that time she left her cocaine out and her toddler brother subsequently had a bad trip and she ended up in jail for approximately one week? Same. This show is very complicated and has as many layers as it does members of the Gallagher family, so explaining what it’s about is kind of hard, but I’ll try. There are six kids and one deadbeat dad, Frank Gallagher, living the good life in the South Side. You know how when you rewatch Game of Thrones, you temporarily lose your mind when you realize that Arya, Bran, and Joffrey (ew, bye) were all legit children when the show started? Shameless is like that. And that is the only thing that Game of Thrones and Shameless have in common! It’s a great show because it’s funny and dramatic, so if you want to laugh and cry a the same thing, Shameless is for you.
‘Hello Privilege. It’s Me, Chelsea.’
There is only one person who can get away with a title like this, and her name is Chelsea Handler. There isn’t much info on this, so I will say what Wikipedia, my most quoted source in college essays, said about it: “Hello Privilege. It’s Me, Chelsea is an upcoming 2019 documentary directed by Alex Stapleton and starring Chelsea Handler. The premise revolves around examining the concept of ‘White privilege,’ the societal privilege that benefits white people over non-white people.” A little racy for the times in which we live? Seems that way, but knowing my girl Chelsea, she’s going to make it funny.
‘Surviving R. Kelly: Season 1’
Like “Trapped in the Closet”, the R. Kelly documentary has a few parts. The similarities end there, aside from their involvement with R. Kelly. The documentary is a very vivid detailing of the sexual abuse allegations against the rapper/singer/alleged sex cult leader, so watch at your own risk. It’s obviously a very timely documentary considering the #MeToo movement is still very relevant, and it got amazing reviews. This is a must-watch.
‘American Horror Story: Apocalypse’
Truth be told, I cannot handle anything even remotely scary. Don’t believe me? I couldn’t make it through Pirates of the Caribbean three years ago when I was 23. So you can imagine just how many times I sh*t myself when a friend forced me to watch the Asylum season of this show over Memorial Day weekend. It was f*cking terrifying, and I can’t picture just how gut-wrenching the other seasons are. I refuse to watch them, but here’s what I know about Apocalypse: It revolves around some sort of nuclear explosion and is a crossover between seasons one and three of this godforsaken show. I started to read the Wikipedia episode summaries, but got too freaked out after the third one, so all I can tell you is that the apocalypse happens and the prettiest members of society are chosen to be saved…for now. K.
‘My Sister’s Keeper’
If you want to cry and never stop, watch this movie. It’s based on the Jodi Picoult book about a teenage girl, Kate, with a fatal cancer diagnosis. Not to worry, her parents try to save her by designing their third child, Anna, to be medically compatible with her dying sister so that doctors can take her blood, bone marrow, organs, happiness and give them to Kate. Just fun sister things! As you can imagine, this movie is sad af and Cameron Diaz deserves an award for it. I haven’t seen it since it came out 10 years ago (f*ck, I feel old), but the two things I remember about it are the fact that the movie ending is the complete opposite of the book ending, and that Kate had a v promising future as a professional scrapbooker. Did I just ruin the whole movie? My b.
‘Eat, Pray, Love’
I’m just going to say it: this was no one’s favorite movie, because we expect Pretty Woman energy from Julia Roberts at all times. She’s kind of whiney in this “watch me find myself while I blow all my money on exotic journeys” story. It’s the kind of movie you’d watch if you’ve already seen all you’ve wanted to see on Netflix, but it’s only 9pm and you need to watch something. I respect her food choices and the blond hair, but that’s about it.
‘The Great British Baking Show’
I better speak for all of us when I say HELL F*CKING YEA, FINALLY! If you are not watching The Great British Baking Show, I literally don’t know what you are doing with your life. Here’s how I describe this show to literally everyone: it’s the opposite of every American cooking competition show. Everyone is nice to each other, there is no sabotage (in fact, the contestants know ahead of time what the challenges will be so they can practice at home), and the format of every episode is exactly the same. It’s incredibly wholesome content, and a 10/10. Starting August 30, new episodes will drop on Netflix every Friday.
To end on a sad note, there are a few gems leaving Netflix this September. Batman Begins will bid us adieu, which I guess is okay since we get another prime Christian Bale movie? The best disney cartoon, Hercules, will also be peacing out in September and I am genuinely bummed about it. After just a few months, Magic Mike will be body rolling off Netflix and hopefully onto Amazon Prime or Hulu because I am not ready to say goodbye to him yet. Music & Lyrics, Mulan, the opposite of Titanic AKA Revolutionary Road, and The Hangover are also leaving Netflix to go apple-picking this September. It’s been real, but I’m very much down for the new shows/movies to stream!
Images: Shutterstock; Giphy (6)
For many people, the chance to lead a Broadway show is the dream of a lifetime. One of those people is Samantha Barks, who is currently living out that dream playing Vivian Ward in Broadway’s Pretty Woman: The Musical. The chance to step into the iconic role created by Julia Roberts is the opportunity of a lifetime, and for Barks, it was an opportunity that came after years of hard work and dedication.
Samantha Barks is probably still best known for playing Éponine in the 2012 film adaptation of Les Misérables, earning numerous awards for her breakthrough performance. Years before that, she got her start when she was cast on a singing competition show in the UK at the age of 17. For Samantha, that opportunity changed everything. “I auditioned for fun. I didn’t think I would get through. I ended up on live TV for two months—that was a crazy jump,” she recalls. “I’m from a little island, a beautiful island called Isle of Man, and all of a sudden, everyone recognizes you because you’re on primetime, Saturday night TV.”
Despite the show leading to numerous theater gigs for Samantha, her sudden exposure wasn’t all positive. “The fame thing—even though minor fame—there were aspects of it that I really didn’t take to, and it made me very, very anxious,” she admits. “In a way, that surprised me because I always just thought about the career aspect…but I didn’t think about the stuff that came along with it, and that actually was something I found really difficult to get a hold of.”
When Samantha heard that Pretty Woman was being turned into a musical, she knew it was something special. “The minute I saw that they were doing it, I was on the phone with my agent being like, ‘Please, I have to be seen for this role,'” she recalls. As fate would have it, the timing worked out perfectly. “I was actually filming in London, I had a week off to come and do some concerts at 54 Below , and it happened to be on the same week that Pretty Woman were holding their auditions—thank you, fate! So I auditioned, and they wanted me for a callback, but I couldn’t because I had to go back on the plane, and they were talking about flying me back, and there was all this back and forth, and then I landed in London and they said, ‘It’s yours. They want you to do it.'”
Barks landed the role more quickly than she had even imagined, but that was just the start of the hard work. For one, she was faced with the challenge of creating her own version of one of the most iconic film roles ever. The first rule? No watching the movie allowed. “It’s banned. Just because, you know, it’s such a beautiful, iconic performance from Julia Roberts.”
Rather than try to top Roberts’ star-making role, Barks looked for a more personal connection to the character: “What does Vivian feel like to me?” she asked herself. “What does Vivian feel like in my skin?” She also turned to the show’s musical element to unlock new aspects of the character. “The fact that we’re now singing songs by Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance, that’s amazing, and it changes things. It gives you these little three-minute snapshots of a character.”
Once Samantha figured out her take on the character, she could really have fun with it. Vivian is “such a fun character,” she says, “because she has such a great journey… The best thing about her is from the beginning to the end, seeing the transformation that she goes on. Not the transformation that people think of—the hair and the clothes—that’s just fine. It’s actually her finding her voice and finding that self-worth.”
Of course, Vivian is a sex worker, a profession that is often considered taboo. But her journey in Pretty Woman defies the stereotypes of her background, and offers something for all of us to learn. In talking about what Vivian has unlocked inside of her, Samantha says, “It goes back to her finding her self-worth, and actually saying ‘that’s okay.’ Standing up for yourself, and having the confidence to go ‘I’m actually enough. I’m enough!'”
Even though Vivian’s choices might not always be the easy ones, she knows what’s right for her. “You have to stand up for yourself and make hard decisions, because you’ve got to believe in yourself,” Barks asserts. “We put so much pressure on ourselves to be perfect all the time, and it’s like, you’ve got to be a fan of yourself, be a supporter of yourself. That’s not easy to do, but Vivian becomes that. We can all learn from that.”
For Samantha Barks, a year of stepping into Vivian Ward’s thigh-high boots eight times a week has been full of unforgettable moments. Perhaps the biggest one of all came last summer, when Julia Roberts herself paid the Broadway company of Pretty Woman a visit. “She walked onto the stage and just looked straight for me, and she just hugged me and hugged me and hugged me, and we stayed in a hug, and she was so nice about what I had done in the show,” Barks gushes. ” so kind about my portrayal of Vivian…I was blown away. Even just to meet her and give her a hug is amazing when you’ve played this role, but for her to like what I’ve done with it—surreal. Surreal, but lovely. To get her stamp of approval was amazing.”
In addition to some special celebrity backstage visits, Pretty Woman has given Samantha Barks a long-awaited debut in the Broadway community, and they’ve welcomed her with open arms. “These are your peers, your family,” she says of her Broadway friends. After years of flying back and forth for various film projects, Broadway has offered Barks a supportive home to grow with other artists—especially women. “I love that. When women celebrate other women, I love it. I see a lot of that, and it’s been lovely.”
Samantha Barks is currently starring as Vivian Ward in Broadway’s Pretty Woman: The Musical, at the Nederlander Theatre.
Images: Shutterstock; MissAVuk, Pretty Woman: The Musical / YouTube; @samanthabarks (2) / Instagram