Just four years ago, 30 Rock joked that making a Harriet Tubman biopic was the riskiest script a movie executive could possibly greenlight. An expensive period piece? Starring a middle-aged woman? The very idea was ludicrous. And yet, here we are in 2017 with not just one but two Tubman biopics now in the works. An HBO movie starring Viola Davis was announced back in 2015, and Deadline revealed Wednesday that Tony award–winning actress Cynthia Erivo has been cast in another upcoming film about the Underground Railroad conductor, titled Harriet.
Tubman, for those who weren’t paying attention in history class, was born into slavery in the 1820s, escaped, and led an effort to lead hundreds more enslaved people to freedom. She also spied for the Union Army during the Civil War and later fought for women’s suffrage. Most recently, she was selected as the new face of the $20 bill, booting Andrew Jackson to the back of the bill.
Erivo won the Tony for Best Actress in a Musical last year for her role as Celie in The Color Purple and will make her big-screen debut in 2018, in the Steve McQueen thriller Widows, co-starring alongside the other Harriet Tubman, Viola Davis. Erivo will also be performing with John Legend at the Grammys on Sunday, as part of the night’s In Memoriam segment.
Tubman seems to finally be getting her due, and it’s nice that Hollywood is taking notice. Of course, if a third Tubman biopic does crop up, we know exactly who we’d cast: Hidden Figures Best Supporting Actress nominee Octavia Spencer, who has already had plenty of practice with the role.