Here is why Cynthia Erivo, in particular, should not play Harriet Tubman.

TL; DR: There’s a troubling pattern of Cynthia repeatedly, deliberately, selectively *choosing* to not give respect to African-American heritage – the heritage of Harriet Tubman.
Note: There’s an argument to be made against Africans/non-DOS Brits playing important African-American figures – & vice versa. Performance & perspective, where & how we take up space, larger economic & cultural issues at play.

Others have unpacked that; this thread won’t.
This thread is about why Cynthia Erivo should not play Harriet Tubman, “the Moses of her people” & a sacred African-American ancestor. It goes beyond Cynthia’s birthplace, accent, heritage & even her association with an ethnic bigot.

It rests on a pattern of behavior & choices.
Note: Keep the following in mind for timeline.

July 2013 - Cynthia starts playing Celie, an African-American, in the UK production of the Color Purple.

February 2017 - Cynthia's casting as Harriet Tubman announced.…
Note: I use “African-American” to refer to Black people who are descendants of US chattel slavery. Those who 1980s Jesse Jackson & 1782 writers had in mind. Those who’d lost ability to specifically ID as “Nigerian-American” or “Coromantee-American”.….
There are other terms that I and others are now preferring to use as clarifiers or replacements – #DACS, #AmericanDoS (descendants of enslaved), #BADASS (Black American Descendants of Slaves and Sharecroppers).
For this thread, I’m keeping to “African-Americans (AA)” to refer to this *specific group* that has a long & peculiar history in America, with a distinct culture, lineage, ethnicity and experience.
Speaking of specifics, Cynthia understands that specific Nigerian/African/Black Brit representation in more general (Black/mainstream/American) spaces is important – and a source of pride.
She understands that there are appropriate times for various groups in the Diaspora to fill certain roles...
...and inappropriate times for say, non-Brits to be recognized in Brit realms.
And then there are instances when she says one’s birthplace or accent (reductionist) shouldn’t determine the realm they take up space in. These instances have something in common.
(And yet again times when her accent is more than an accent, it’s an identity – a lived experience.)
There’s a pattern of distinguishing, recognizing, separating, protecting when it’s convenient.
She routinely calls out cultural appropriation and blurred cultural lines – when it’s convenient. She grasps what is universal and transcendent, and what is specific.
She can even distinguish between the lived experiences and representations of different generations of immigrants who are African. Very specific, indeed.
She realizes that there are issues where lived experience matters. Where listening and learning matter, rather than debating, denying, dismissing and judging. That choices matter.
But she doesn’t seem to recognize the different lived experiences of African-Americans.
She seems to only note African-Americans as a distinct group when she perceives them as doing something negative (against Africans), like being “jealous” or “mad” or “ghetto.”

She judges, debates, denies, dismisses and, ultimately, disrespects.
She demonstrates a lack of compassion and grace. Towards a Katrina survivor. In an exchange where some might say lived experience matters. She inserts herself into an issue to judge and pronounce.
Cynthia shields herself with “we’re all Black,” when convenient. Yet she specifies & caricatures ghetto [Black] Americans to a white counterpart.

2013 might seem like long ago. It’s not. It was only 5 yrs ago. Cynthia was 26 yrs old.

Very disappointing
You know who else mocks African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) and the people who speak it? (While later appropriating & profiting from it.)

The ethnic bigot that Cynthia chose to defend very compassionately last month.

Others have condemned her bigotry.

Cynthia hasn't.
If Actor A was starring in a film about the Armenian genocide and their Turkish “sis” was known to brashly denigrate Armenians & overstep culture, would it be irrational for Armenians to ask where Actor A stood? Would having shared central Asian origins erase the problem?
Moving along, Cynthia dismisses a lot.

Dismisses & erases difference.

Dismisses & condescends.

Dismisses & deflects, with an odd sort of transactional entitlement. “AAs have played Brits, so people shouldn’t take issue with a Brit playing an AA.”
Sometimes when it’s convenient, she accuses and problematizes African-Americans seeing Black Brits as a separate entity.
Other times when it’s convenient, she asserts that Black Brits (and Nigerians and Africans) *are* a separate entity.
When asked to respect AAs as their own distinct group, she switches focus to generic, undifferentiated Blackness or POCness. Or implies that AAs are less entitled to consider themselves AA. Or that they are the ones who are confused about what it means to be African-American.
And this isn't just a simple, innocent matter of differing perceptions and uses of the term “African-American.” There's a pattern.
A historian called out her friend (the ethnic bigot)'s latest overstep in disrespecting & exploiting AA culture.

Cynthia defends with a telling retweet. (RT isn't always agreement but in this situation, it seems it is.)
What pray tell, are *some African-Americans who call out cultural interlopers & ethnic bigots* jealous of?

(Note: "Black American" here is being used to denote African-#AmericanDOS #BADASS (Black American descendants of slaves & sharecroppers))
Rather than trying to *listen* & *learn* why AAs were offended by her friend's overstep, she inserted herself.

She accused.

She dismissed.

She denied.

She apparently didn’t think it worthwhile to step back & look at her friend's history with African-American culture.
This isn't about punishing Cynthia for her friend’s ethnic bigotry.

It’s about holding her accountable for her *choice* to associate w/ this person. Her *choice* to loudly defend them & condone their behavior.

Her *choice* to remain silent on & not rebuke bigotry.
It is about her own behavior – apart from, before, after her friend.

While there aren't as many smoking guns, when you step back there’s a bigger picture that forms a constellation of disrespect & insensitivity. That doesn’t instill confidence but instead fosters serious doubt
Indeed, Cynthia’s recent statements responding to those protecting Harriet’s legacy have done everything but center Harriet’s legacy.
Cynthia has made the issue about…
Cynthia's hard work
Cynthia's struggle of being “attacked” & “othered”
Cynthia's humanity
Cynthia's talent…
Cynthia's Blackness
Cynthia's training
Cynthia's celebration of being cast
Cynthia's self-professed position as protector of Harriet’s legacy.

A trend?

At best she doesn’t understand some very core issues at play; at worst, she’s pretending not to understand these issues
At its core, this isn’t xenophobic, anti-Nigerian, selectively anti-Black, or anti-Black British.

Are there xenophobic opportunists who latch onto controversy? Of course. But xenophobic opportunists don't trump Harriet’s sacred legacy. Nor do they erase Cynthia's behavior.
Some AAs feel that an African-American (DACS) should play the role.

Some are fine with a Black person of enslaved descent (Caribbean, Afro-Latino, Liberian) can play the role. Many have mentioned Underground’s Aisha Hinds (brilliant as Harriet Tubman), who is Caribbean-American
We can all agree that it would be tragic to have our sacred ancestor Harriet Tubman portrayed by someone who consistently dismisses & disrespects African-American heritage.

She *at least* deserves someone whose past, & present behavior is unquestionably respectful & sensitive.
So once again, Harriet Tubman's life is an expression of so much that makes African-American descendants of chattel slavery a unique people with a unique lineage, culture & history.

How can you portray her when you dismiss and disrespect that unique lineage, culture and history?
No weapon formed against #HarrietTubman’s legacy will prosper – even if that weapon is disguised as an indie prestige movie with well-intentioned people who mistakenly think that Cynthia embodies Harriet's spirit. #HarrietDeservesBetter
And we don't doubt that their "mistake" is an honest one.

We, too, appreciate that Cynthia has often used her platform to vocally speak against those problems that affect all Black people in America - and throughout the Diaspora. (Yet commonality doesn't erase difference.)
We aren’t naïve. We understand the production timeline.

We urge the producers to recast. If they don’t, we assure them that we will vocally & actively do our best to prevent this movie from having financial or critical success.…
If those in charge continue down this road paved with good intentions, their movie will become notable and infamous for being an example of MANY negative issues. #HarrietDeservesBetter
P.S. We are aware of the media’s bias in favor of Cynthia’s casting. Framing those of us seeking to protect Harriet’s legacy as aggressors who are “attacking,” “trolling,” and “punishing” Cynthia. #HarrietDeservesBetter
We recognize Cynthia’s talent, hard work & raw determination. We wish her the best in projects that do not involve inhabiting important African-American roles.

We invite her to re-examine her patience & knowledge, & her roles in the world and on stage.
P.S.Before you say
-“You have too much time”
-“It’s not that serious”
Yes, I had time today (technically, the last 3 early mornings).
And it *is* very serious that Harriet Tubman’s sacred legacy is protected from those who disrespect her progeny & lineage. #HarrietDeservesBetter
It’s also “serious” enough that Cynthia deleted many of the comments from those vying to hold her accountable.
It’s serious enough that the person who formed a petition (with 800+ signatures) is an industry professional risking her career. It’s serious enough that Cynthia deleted most of this person’s IG comments. It’s serious enough that people threatened this person & her family.
And pointing that out is not an appeal to emotion but an indication of those on varying “sides” understanding what’s at stake. They understand just how serious this all is.
We encourage our African allies to listen, engage genuinely, and speak up against disrespect.

If you choose to engage us with the whataboutisms & strawmans of last week, please don’t be surprised if we no longer respond. It’s clear that some are trying to deflect & silence.
Our opinions on other productions aren’t a priority.

Harriet Tubman’s legacy is what matters here and now.

The behavior and beliefs of the woman portraying her is what matters here and now.
Cynthia Erivo quietly acknowledged people's concerns with her befriending & defending Luvvie and endorsing/amplifying anti-African-American beliefs.

Her response: avoid answering directly & invite Luvvie to her movie premiere on Saturday.

Disappointing #HarrietDeservesBetter
West African Voltron member Yvonne Orji was also Cynthia's guest at the premiere.

Asked recently if Africans look down on African-#AmericanDOS, Yvonne replied, Nigerians "don't look down, we're always looking up. So if [#AmericanDOS] aren't in our purview, we don't see you."🤔
Once again, this isn't about guilt by association but choices.

Choosing what company you keep (& *continue* to keep).

Choosing who you don't distance yourself from.

Choosing who and what is owed an explanation and apology. Who and what is worthy of promoting and defending.
A timeline refresher, updates & deleted posts

More tweets from '11 indicate mocking "ghetto" people was ongoing joke b/w Cynthia & friends.

Just last year, Cynthia lamented frequency of "slave" roles. There's some validity in her tweet, but it adds to current #Harriet concern
Cynthia has been aware of the concern about her disrespect towards African-Americans for weeks now.

Instead of addressing directly (explaining or apologizing), she continues to engage those critiquing the movie's casting… by clarifying the finer points of movie publicity.
Amidst her pedantry ("as you were"), she manages to again frame those concerned with Harriet's legacy as aggressors against Cynthia -unfairly pre-judging Cynthia with "anger," while she's "just doing her job."

An hr later, she posts about "understanding" & rising above the fray
Interesting how Cynthia perceives "doing her job" as the person portraying sacred African-American ancestor Harriet Tubman.

✅Clarifying casting publicity timing

🚫Clarifying her own disrespect towards African-Americans

🚫Condemning her friend's bigotry & mocking of Tubman
Yesterday gave us the latest example of Cynthia dodging accountability about her behavior towards African-Americans.

Yet, on Friday, Cynthia was very quick to apologize, explain and admit insensitivity in the context of the Kavanaugh hearings.

Not once, but three (3) times.
Remember, these are all choices.

Choosing who and what is owed an explanation and apology.

Who and what is worthy of promoting and defending.

Who and what gets pedantry as a consolation prize.

These choices speak volumes about respect and integrity.

It appears that Cynthia has blocked me merely because my thread was linked in a tweet last night responding to her.

Let me be very clear: my efforts to bring her behavior to light are not about hate, but rather stem from concern & reverence for sacred ancestor Harriet Tubman
I have not been hateful towards Cynthia, haven't harassed & have barely engaged her directly since mid-September. Haven't been on her timeline since Sep 15.

And when I have engaged her directly, the tenor has remained diplomatic or candid, not hateful…
The only thing that has changed since I last engaged her directly:
more of Cynthia's behavior has come to light
More people are aware of her behavior
She appears to have attempted to obscure evidence of that behavior thru deleting posts

(Note, blocking can be used to censor.)
And so, two key q's for consideration:
If Cynthia feels something isn't truthful, why not address directly vs. deflecting & deleting?

Does her behavior - her pattern of dismissing, mocking, belittling AAs - stem from love & respect? Or something else?

All steel isn't forged the same.

We should value that which transcends.

And we should also recognize and honor the unique heritage of African-Americans, Harriet Tubman's progeny.

Watch this to understand our perspective. (1/2)


(h/t @ChampagneSharks)
How do the environments in which identity is formed produce meaningful differences in heritage, lineage and lived experience?

Watch this to help understand the perspective of African-#AmericanDOS, Harriet Tubman's progeny. (2/2)


(h/t @ChampagneSharks)
Listen to the full discussion of the concerns around protecting our sacred ancestor Harriet Tubman's legacy:……

Great insights from @RickyRawls @mdmills79 @ChampagneSharks.

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