Tony, Emmy and Grammy Award winner Cynthia Erivo defended herself against a commenter who criticized her for snagging the part of Harriet Tubman in an upcoming biopic of the African-American icon.
It was announced this week that Erivo would play the title role in Harriet, a film that explores Tubman’s escape from slavery and her drive to free many slaves through the Underground Railroad.
But a commenter on Instagram criticized the decision to pick Erivo, who is British, over an African-American actress. Erivo shared the critique in her Instagram stories:
“Why do you Brits come to the U.S. and take roles that should be reserved for African-Americans?” the commenter said. “How would you feel [if] we went to your country and snagged all the acting roles? Why can’t you people create your own movies and roles in the U.K.? We paved the way for ourselves here, and you people come and take [shots] we worked hard for….”
Erivo responded directly, stating that she “worked very hard” for a “role I neither took nor was simply given.”
“Actors are free to go where they please for their work, but I dare you to do that fully as a Black woman in the U.K. If I see it, I applaud it,” she wrote. “What was for someone else was never mine in the first place. Please believe that I have turned down roles I know I have no business playing. This role is not one of them….”
She continued in another story post: “If you met me in the street and hadn’t heard me speak, would you know I was British, or would you simply see a Black woman?”
Last year, actor Samuel L. Jackson accused Black British actors of taking roles from their African-American colleagues after Daniel Kaluuya’s star turn in Get Out.
“They don’t cost as much,” he said. “Unless you’re an unknown brother that they’re finding somewhere. They think they’re better trained, for some reason, than we are because they’re classically trained. I don’t know what the love affair is with all that. It’s all good.”
Idris Elba, who is British, took issue with Jackson’s comment.
“We are dissected as a people; why dissect us any further as a comment that’s as stupid as that?” he asked.
Erivo, who is an Oscar away from reaching EGOT status, will begin filming Harriet next month in Virginia.
“This is the story of a seemingly powerless woman who accomplished the extraordinary to save her loved ones and, in the process, became a leader of and inspiration for her people,” said producers Debra Martin Chase and Daniela Taplin Lundberg. “While Harriet Tubman is a household name, most people don’t know the breadth of her story—not only was she a conductor on the Underground Railroad but she was a spy for the Union army and remains one of the few women to have led an armed expedition in U.S. history.”