Art and culture

Romeo & Juliet Star Backed by Black Actors in Letter Condemning Abuse

Over 800 Black women and non-binary actors have signed an open letter condemning the online racial abuse of Francesca Amewudah-Rivers, who was recently cast as Juliet in a London West End production of “Romeo & Juliet” alongside Tom Holland.

The letter, published in The Guardian on Wednesday, was the initiative of “Enola Holmes” actor Susan Wokoma and “Crowning Glory” playwright Somalia Nonyé Seaton. It reads, “When news of Francesca Amewudah-Rivers’ casting in Jamie Lloyd’s production of ‘Romeo & Juliet’ was announced so many people celebrated and welcomed this news. Many of us took to social media to shower our baby sis with love and congratulations – a huge deal for someone so young in their career. A huge rising talent.

“But then what followed was a too familiar horror that many of us visible Black dark skinned performers have experienced. The racist and misogynistic abuse directed at such a sweet soul has been too much to bear. For a casting announcement of a play to ignite such twisted ugly abuse is truly embarrassing for those so empty and barren in their own lives that they must meddle in hateful abuse.”

Among the 883 signatories are Lashana Lynch (“No Time to Die”), Sheila Atim (“The Woman King”), Marianne Jean-Baptiste (“Secrets & Lies”), Lolly Adefope (“Ghosts”), Freema Agyeman (“Doctor Who”), Wunmi Mosaku (“His House”) and Tamara Lawrance (“The Silent Twins”).

The letter comes after “Romeo & Juliet” producer Jamie Lloyd Company issued a statement last week saying: “Following the announcement of our ‘Romeo & Juliet’ cast, there has been a barrage of deplorable racial abuse online directed towards a member of our company. This must stop.” The statement did not name Amewudah-Rivers.

The Jamie Lloyd Company statement was welcomed by the letter signatories, who said they hoped it would “extend to committed emotional support for Francesca on her journey with the production.”

“Too many times theatre companies, broadcasters, producers and streamers have failed to offer any help or support when their Black artists face racist or misogynistic abuse. Reporting is too often left on the shoulders of the abused, who are also then expected to promote said show,” the letter continues. “We want to send a clear message to Francesca and all Black women performers who face this kind of abuse – we see you. We see the art you manage to produce with not only the pressures that your white colleagues face but with the added traumatic hurdle of misogynoir. We are so excited to watch you shine.”

Amewudah-Rivers previously starred in “Bad Education” and her theater credits include “Macbeth” (Shakespeare’s Globe), “Antigone” (Colchester Mercury), “Othello” (National Youth Theatre REP Company), “Animal Farm” (National Youth Theatre REP Company) and “Ordinary Miracle” (National Youth Theatre REP Company).

“Romeo & Juliet,” directed by Jamie Lloyd (“Sunset Boulevard”), stars “Spider-Man: No Way Home” star Holland as Romeo, and is due to play at London’s Duke of York’s Theatre May 23 through Aug. 3. The run is already sold out.

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