Civil War spy and abolitionist Harriet Tubman burst back onto the scene for the first time since your high school history class when it was announced two weeks ago that she would be replacing Andrew Jackson on the front of the $20 bill. Of course, Hollywood is never one to let a good idea pass by un-adapted so — in a move we all should have seen coming — a Harriet Tubman biopic is already in the works, according to an exclusive report by Deadline.
Titled simply Harriet, the feature film will be written by Gregory Allen Howard (Remember The Titans) and helmed by Seith Mann (a prolific TV director who has recently worked on episodes of The Walking Dead, Homeland, and Elementary). However, there's no news yet on which lucky actress will get to play the plumb role… although it's certain the stars will literally be lining up to throw their hats into the ring. (Cicely Tyson previously played Tubman in a 1978 miniseries titled A Woman Called Moses , and although at 91 she's much too old to reprise the role, it would be great to see her cameo in the film in some capacity.)
Given that the Academy loves biopics and given the recent controversy surrounding #OscarsSoWhite, it already feels like an inevitability that whoever lands the role of Harriet Tubman will end up in serious Oscar consideration. With that in mind, here's a list of 11 actresses whose awards credentials automatically put them in the running for this high-profile project:
1. Angela Bassett
Bassett was previously honored with an Oscar nomination for playing another real-life woman back in 1993: Tina Turner in the biopic What's Love Got To Do With It alongside Laurence Fishburne as Ike. The actress has experienced a career resurgence lately thanks to a handful of buzzy parts in Ryan Murphy's American Horror Story franchise, which have earned her two Emmy nods; now it would be gratifying to see her return triumphantly to the big screen in an Oscar-worthy part.
2. Viola Davis
Actually, Viola Davis is the one actress we know will play Harriet Tubman… although, sadly, not in this film. Just last week, Variety reported that the Emmy-winning How To Get Away With Murder star had signed on to an HBO movie about Harriet Tubman, based on the book Bound For The Promised Land: Harriet Tubman: Portrait Of An American Hero. It will be a race to see which adaptation hits the screen first!
3. Loretta Devine
Even though she's been in dozens of films, Devine is still mostly known for her work onstage (starring in Dreamgirls on Broadway) and television (winning an Emmy for her performance as Adele Webber on Grey's Anatomy). Although the 66-year-old would be an older choice for the role — Tubman would have been 39 at the time the Civil War broke out — it would still be wonderful to see Devine get the widespread acclaim she so richly deserves.
4. Whoopi Goldberg
Earning her first Academy Award nomination for Steven Spielberg's The Color Purple and winning for her memorable turn in Ghost, Goldberg is more known these days for chatting it up on The View than for her acting resumé. Could Tubman be the role that lures the iconic Oscar host back to the big screen?
5. Marianne Jean-Baptiste
It's been two decades since Jean-Baptiste was nominated for her supporting part in 1996's Secrets & Lies. In the meantime, she's accrued plenty of experience on television thanks to regular roles on Without A Trace and now Blindspot. Maybe if she asked nicely, NBC would spare her from their buzzy new drama for long enough to film this biopic?
6. Regina King
King won an Emmy last year for her performance in ABC's American Crime; she's in the conversation again this year for the second season of that acclaimed anthology series as well as for her stellar performance in Season 2 of HBO's The Leftovers. Taking on a role like Harriet Tubman would be the perfect way to bulid on that momentum and launch King into the realm of Oscar contenders.
7. Queen Latifah
Latifah would certainly be my first choice for the role if they were adapting Harriet Tubman's life into a musical. Her Oscar nod for playing Matron Mama Morton in 2002's Chicago was a well-deserved one. Heck, even if it's (probably) not a musical, it would still be fun to see her try her hand at a dramatic biopic. It could be just the kind of surprising, genre-defying performance Academy voters fall for.
Quick — name one feature film Mo'Nique has been in since she won her Oscar for 2009's Precious. I'd be surprised if you could: not counting the HBO movie Bessie (with Latifah), IMDb only lists three. But we all know the Oscars love a good comeback story — even if they don't quite end up making it all the way to the gold (sorry, Sly!) — and taking a role like this could get Mo'Nique back in the conversation.
9. Octavia Spencer
Since Davis is apparently too busy with her own Tubman project, maybe she could recommend her old The Help co-star to headline this one instead. And guess what, casting director! Spencer already has experience playing Tubman, thanks to Comedy Central's Drunk History . I can already smell Oscar trophy #2 on the horizon…
10. Oprah Winfrey
Sometimes it's easy to forget that, long before Oprah was the most recognizable talk show host in the history of the world, she was actually an Oscar-nominated actress. (For The Color Purple, alongside Whoopi Goldberg.) She came thisclose to earning her second nod a few years ago for her supporting role in Lee Daniels' The Butler, but fell just short of the mark. I guarantee that oversight wouldn't happen again if she was in contention for playing Harriet Tubman.
11. Alfre Woodard
Woodard has a staggering 17 Emmy nominations — including four wins, most recently for The Practice — but only one Oscar nomination, for 1983's Cross Creek. A nod for starring in Harriet would go a little ways towards balancing those scales, don't you think?
There's no doubt that any of these actresses would be lucky to get the role of Harriet Tubman — and that all of them would be terrific in the part. Who will it be? Whoever it is, it's encouraging just to see Hollywood making a movie starring a woman of color and a woman of a certain age, simultaneously. You certainly don't see that every day.