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Nigerian-British Actress Cynthia Erivo Responds To Backlash Over Harriet Tubman Role

Earlier this week, Nigerian-British actress Cynthia Erivo announced that she’ll be playing the role of Harriet Tubman in a movie about the American abolitionist.

Right away, many congratulated her, but there were some who felt the role should’ve gone to an African-American woman or at the very least, an actual decedent of slavery. There was also criticism hurled at the director Kasi Lemmons since he’s African-American and chose someone from England. 

Cynthia Erivo Responds To Backlash for Playing Harriet Tubman


“Why do you Brits come to the U.S. and take roles that should be reserved for African Americans?” one person tweeted. “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.”

At this point in her career, Erivo is well-accomplished and probably most known for playing Celie in the Broadway version of “The Color Purple,” which she won a Tony Award for, as well as a daytime Emmy and Grammy.

After she was criticized, many came to her defense, then Erivo responded herself. In short, the actress said she can work wherever she chooses but realizes that certain roles should be given to other Black women and not her.

“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.”

Then in a separate post, Erivo responded to the chatter again.

“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?” she asked.

Then in a longer post, Erivo disagreed with the belief that Black actors from the U.K. have an easier time getting roles than Black actors in U.S., which is something Samuel L. Jackson alluded to a while back

“Nothing has been given to me without me first putting the work in,” wrote Erivo. “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.”

Erivo’s post sparked thousands of responses and most of them seemed positive. 

“Persecution is confirmation of your elevation,” one message read. “We got you.”

“Don’t pay attention to the haters in my country,” another person wrote. “You earn that role. Now get ready to play the role of a lifetime. I support you.”

“You will continue to make us proud,” wrote a third. “Haters gonna hate. You could play Cynthia Erivo and someone would complain.”

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