September 19, 2018
Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images for Michael Kors
Tony Award winner Cynthia Erivo has been cast to star in the upcoming Harriet Tubman biopic but the reception hasn’t been the best, largely due to her heritage. The 31-year-old Nigerian actress was born in London and some have found it puzzling that an American woman wasn’t chosen.
Erivo took to Instagram to address the concerns.
“I struggled a little with whether or not to post anything about this role, because even though there is so much celebration and encouragement coming through, there’s also anger and offense spurred on by my being from the UK. I hope that I do everyone, even those who are in doubt or are upset, proud. I hope I quell your fears, because I understand that is what it is. I cannot tell how protective I am of this woman and her story.”
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I struggled a little with whether or not to post anything about this role, because even though there is so much celebration and encouragement coming through, there’s also anger and offense spurred on by my being from the UK…..I guess there is a bigger conversation to be had about heritage and experience, also about who Harriet really was. That can not be had in an Instagram post, what I will say is that my journey to this woman has been long and detailed and one I have not taken lightly. Nothing has been given to me without me first putting the work in, people speak of foreign privilege and truthfully life would be unbelievably easy if that were applied to me but that is not my portion. I fought for the role of Celie, and spilled blood sweat and tears playing her, the same applies for every role I’ve earned, this will be no different. I hope that I do everyone, even those who are in doubt or are upset, proud. I hope I quell your fears, because I understand that is what it is. I cannot tell how protective I am of this woman and her story. I posted this because I cannot allow people to make me neglect to celebrate this honor. This story has gone unnoted for long enough and @debramchase Daniela Taplin and @focusfeatures are the perfect home the beautiful way Kasi Lemmons has told this story is more than a blessing. I am glad to be given the opportunity to bring the life of Harriet Tubman to you. I would be lying if I didn’t make it clear that this is scary, and I thank you in advance for the support. Love you much. ALL OF YOU! Yours truly ❤️❤️
According to Deadline, the film will focus on Tubman’s life, including her time as a Union spy and her now-historic rise as one of the leading rescuers of the Underground Railroad. A petition has even been started to stop Erivo from portraying the American abolitionist.
“We will boycott any film or anything that is negative towards us (Black Americans)…Next time don’t put on your Instagram we’re all black to silence Black Americans…You take pride in your Nigerian culture. We take pride as being descendants of American chattel slavery/black American culture.”
To date there have been more than 600 signatures added. This is nothing new in the industry. In 2017 Samuel L. Jackson spoke out about Daniel Kaluuya (he’s also British) being cast in Get Out. “There are a lot of black British actors in these movies. I tend to wonder what that movie [‘Get Out’] would have been with an American brother who really feels that.” He continued, “What would a brother from America have made of that role? Some things are universal, but not everything.”
Kaluuya responded by saying, “I resent that I have to prove that I’m black. I’m dark-skinned, bro. When I’m around black people I’m made to feel ‘other’ because I’m dark-skinned. I’ve had to wrestle with that, with people going ‘You’re too black.’ Then I come to America and they say, ‘You’re not black enough.’ I go to Uganda, I can’t speak the language. In India, I’m black. In the black community, I’m dark-skinned. In America, I’m British.”
He does have a point.
TELL US: Do you think an American actress should play the iconic role or will Erivo do just fine?