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 $20 bill already.
If you ever went on a group trip to any major city in middle school, there’s a decent chance you spent an hour or two at Madame Tussauds wax museum. This was in the pre-selfie era, so you probably ended up with a whole lot of grainy camera phone pictures of you posing with Leo DiCaprio and Shakira. Some of the wax figures are more realistic than others, but people are now angry about some, um, questionable Beyoncé lookalikes. Basically, they look nothing like her. In fact, they kind of look like Julia Stiles in Save The Last Dance. Or like, a cross between Ke$ha and Shakira. Or…well, you know what, why don’t you just see for yourself.
The first one is at Madame Tussauds in Orlando. She wears a blue sequined robber and some knee-high boots that are definitely cheap fake leather, but the outfit isn’t bad overall. I mean, I’ve never seen Beyoncé wear anything like that but sure, maybe. The biggest issue here is the hair. The bleached blonde wavy look is more knockoff-Paris Hilton than Beyoncé, whose hair is almost always flawless.
The face looks Lindsay Lohan got plastic surgery to look like Beyoncé, but ended up just looking like a fucking psycho. Literally, none of the facial features are remotely right, and the skin is way too light. People have accused Madame Tussauds of whitewashing Queen Bey, who, if you didn’t get the note from Formation, is a black woman. This statue, on the other hand, appears to be of a white woman who probably has at least one photo on insta where she refers to her friend group as “ma n-words” to be funny. In response to the criticism, Tussauds claimed that the lighting was just off in the photo. Yeah, sure. When in doubt, blame it on bad lighting.
The second one is at the Niagara Falls Tussauds, which doesn’t even sound like it should be a thing. This wax figure is wearing a truly tragic satin dress that looks like it’s from an 80s music video, and we truly only know it’s supposed to be Beyoncé because it’s wearing a name tag.
The hair is more accurate in color, but still limp and tired. The face, however, looks like Mariah Carey but if she starved herself and also turned into plastic. The eyebrows are truly terrifying, and the arms are so skinny she probably couldn’t even hold a microphone. Fucking help.
Last but not least is the Madame Tussauds in Hollywood. You’d think this is where they’d put their best work, but this Beyoncé looks like a cross between Fergie and the lady who got plastic surgery to look like a cat. Her pose looks like she’s checking in the mirror to make sure she shaved her armpit, and the orange and pink dress they put her in should be fucking illegal. Someone help this Beyoncé, she’s lost somewhere between the 70s and hell.
We might never know why these wax figures are so incredibly awful, but we’re pissed about it. Like, how dare they? Kylie just got a literally stunning wax figure, so there’s no excuse. Fucking fix it, Madame Tussaud. This is Queen Bey we’re talking about.