‘Harriet’ Star Cynthia Erivo Responds to Backlash: ‘See It and Then Make Your Judgments’

Shortly after the first trailer for the film Harriet was released in July, controversy erupted over the actress playing the role of abolitionist Harriet Tubman.

Social media users asked why British performer Cynthia Erivo was cast in the biopic from filmmaker Kasi Lemmons, instead of an African American who descended from slaves.

Erivo, a Grammy, Emmy and Tony Award winner, is best known for her performances in The Color Purple on Broadway and the film Widows.

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The actress, who is of Nigerian descent, addressed the backlash over her casting in a new interview with Oprah Winfrey for OWN Spotlight: Oprah At Home with Lupita Nyong’o and Cynthia Erivo.

“I worked really hard and nothing I have ever gotten has come to me without that,” Erivo told Winfrey in a preview clip.

The actress and singer said she believes some of the anger may stem from the lack of well-rounded roles for actresses of color.

“I understand where some of it is coming from, I understand that there’s a lack for us, as actors, as women of color, black actresses, when it comes to playing roles that are full, and grounded, and have gravitas,” she said.

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Erivo wants people to see the Focus Features film first, then decide how they feel about her portrayal of one of America’s greatest heroes.

“See it, and then make your judgments is what I say. Give me a chance,” she said.

After the above clip from Erivo’s interview was posted on YouTube Thursday, some commenters said they refused to see the movie because of past tweets from Erivo that disparaged African Americans.

The unearthed tweets, that have been shared across “Black Twitter,” showed the actress mocking African American vernacular, which she described in one tweet as “ghetto American accents.”

Despite threats of a boycott, Harriet has received mostly positive reviews from film critics. The drama currently has a 60 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and has been described as  “impassioned” and “heartfelt,” although somewhat “formulaic.”

The film opens  November 1, and features a supporting cast that includes Leslie Odom Jr., Janelle Monáe, Joe Alwyn, Clarke Peters and musician Jennifer Nettles.

Erivo’s interview on OWN Spotlight: Oprah At Home with Lupita Nyong’o and Cynthia Erivo aired Saturday, October 26, at 8/7c on OWN.