Cynthia Erivo Responds To Critics Who Slammed Harriet Tubman Casting Because She’s Black-British
Emmy award winner Cynthia Erivo has hit back at critics who have slammed her casting as legendary abolitionist Harriet Tubman in the long-awaited biopic. The feature film, which is simply titled Harriet, will start production in October and follows Tubman on her 1849 escape from slavery and her mission to free slaves through the Underground Railroad just before the American Civil War.
While landing the role should have been a celebratory moment for the British Tony award winner, it was tainted by a flood of complaints from African-Americans and some Black Americans who felt the 31-year-old was an inappropriate casting because of her Nigerian-British heritage.
Meanwhile, other fans defended the Grammy winner citing movies like Black Panther, Hotel Rwanda and Last King of Scotland that cast African-Americans to play fictional and non-fictional characters from Africa – yet there was seemingly no backlash at the time of their casting and release dates.
Cynthia, who first found fame in West End and Broadway, has since spoken out amid the controversy that has taken the internet by storm admitting that ‘there is a bigger conversation to be had about heritage and experience.’
Taking to her Instagram page on Saturday the Chewing Gum actor wrote: ‘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 cannot 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.’
The singer, who starred alongside Oscar-winner Jennifer Hudson in Broadway’s critically acclaimed The Color Purple as Celie, spoke of her struggles while auditioning for roles on stage and on-screen.
‘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,’ she wrote. ‘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.’
She also reassured her followers that she is ‘protective’ of Harriet’s legacy and explained that she posted her statement because she refused to allow people to neglect her the opportunity to celebrate the honour of playing such a large role.
Cynthia is an Oscar away from holding EGOT status (Picture: Rex Features) She concluded: ‘I am glad to be given the opportunity to bring the life of Harriet Tubman to you.’
Cynthia’s comments come after a flurry of negativity hit her social media pages from disappointed Americans. One user tweeted:
‘I will not support a film about Harriet Tubman where the actress playing Harriet Tubman is not African American DOS.’ I will not support a film about Harriet Tubman where the actress playing Harriet Tubman is not African American DOS. — Kristy Tillman (@KristyT)
September 15, 2018, Another added: ‘Sooo… y’all couldn’t cast a Black American slave descendant for this role, which would be culturally significant?! I love Cynthia, but not for this role. Le sigh… #HarrietTubman’ However other users disagreed, with one tweeting: ‘We finally get a Harriet Tubman film and your worried about the Lead role being portrayed by a non-American? Even though she’s black? Astounding #HarrietTubman (sic).’
Cynthia, who has been attached to the Harriet project since last year, is an Oscar away from becoming the youngest person to achieve EGOT status.
A potential Oscar win could mean she joins an exclusive club of performers who have won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony.
So far the star has won a Tony for Best Actress in a Musical, the Grammy for Best Musical Theatre Album, and a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Musical Performance. Just 14 other people have achieved EGOT status in history – Whoopi Goldberg, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Tim Rice, Audrey Hepburn, Mel Brooks, Richard Rodgers, Helen Hayes, Rita Moreno, John Gielgud, Marvin Hamlisch, Jonathan Tunick, Mick Nichols, Scott Rudin and Robert Lopez.