Why Viola Davis Struggled To Bring Harriet Tubman Film To Life

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Davis is gearing up to play Tubman in an HBO film.

On April 20th the Treasury Department announced that Harriet Tubman would replace Andrew Jackson on the front of the $20 bill, making her the first woman in more than a century to grace a U.S. bill.

Aside from reading about Harriet Tubman’s great and many historical accomplishments in our texts books in grade school, the only screen adaptation of Tubman’s life was in a1978 TV movie, starring Cicely Tyson. Viola Davis and her husband, Julius Tennon have tried to rectify this fact by bringing Tubman’s story to the big screen and have struggled.
Viola Davis to Star as Harriet Tubman in HBO Film
“The reason her life has not been honored, the reason people don’t know what she contributed, is because she’s a Black woman,” Davis tells EW. “She was born a slave. If you look up the history of anyone who contributed to the country who were not White males, their contributions are always minimized.”
Davis added that she had often been told that Black female protagonists don’t sell overseas and the fact that there would be too few prominent White characters in Tubman’s narrative would make it a hard sell. There weren’t enough White people in a Black woman’s life, making re-imagining her life and telling her story irrelevant? Good one, Hollywood.
“It became obvious that we had to go a different route,” Davis says on plans to take Tubman’s narrative to HBO.

“It’s our time,” she affirms. "I think that women, people of color, have been sitting on the sidelines, on the periphery of classic storytelling, for too long. We have stories too. It’s like what Harriet said, ‘I would have freed more slaves, if only they had known they were slaves.’”
Producer Doug Ellin and Davis await screenwriter Kirk Ellis’ second script draft before finding a director to shoot next year.

 

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