Theatre Artists Condemn 'Racist and Misogynistic Abuse' Against Romeo & Juliet Actor | Playbill

London News Theatre Artists Condemn 'Racist and Misogynistic Abuse' Against Romeo & Juliet Actor

Francesca Amewudah-Rivers was cast as Juliet opposite Tom Holland's Romeo. The racist attacks soon followed.

Francesca Amewudah-Rivers and Tom Holland

It was supposed to be a typical casting announcement. Francesca Amewudah-Rivers had been cast as Juliet opposite Tom Holland as Romeo in a new version of Romeo & Juliet in the West End, directed by Jamie Lloyd (of the upcoming Sunset Boulevard Broadway revival). Due to Holland's star power (he played Spider-Man for the Marvel Cinematic Universe), the production has attracted more attention than normal, quickly selling out in a few hours. 

But then, the casting news led to a bevy of racist statements directed at Amewudah-Rivers, who is Black (Holland is white). Amewudah-Rivers subsequently disabled the comments on her Instagram. The production's official Instagram account has also disabled its comments.

In response, The Jamie Lloyd Company, the producer behind Romeo & Juliet, released a statement 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. We are working with a remarkable group of artists. We insist that they are free to create work without facing online harassment. We will continue to support and protect everyone in our company at all costs. Any abuse will not be tolerated and will be reported. Bullying and harassment have no place online, in our industry or in our wider communities. Our rehearsal room is full of joy, compassion and kindness. We celebrate the extraordinary talent of our incredible collaborators. The Romeo & Juliet community will continue to rehearse with generosity and love, and focus on the creation of our production."

But for a number of artists, the statement has not been enough. Two separate petitions have been launched on Amewudah-Rivers' behalf, with both British and American artists voicing their support for the actor while asking that the Jamie Lloyd Company do more to protect her.

One petition, which was first released in the Guardian, has been signed by 880 people as of press time. The signatories include actor Noma Dumezweni (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child), playwright Jocelyn Bioh (Jaja's African Hair Braiding), and playwright/actor Lolita Chakrabarti (Life of Pi). The petition was organized by actor Susan Wokoma (Enola Holmes) and playwright Somalia Nonyé Seaton (Fall of the Kingdom, Rise of the Footsoldier).

The petition reads, in part: 

"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. Too many times Black performers—particularly Black actresses—are left to face the storm of online abuse after committing the crime of getting a job on their own. We welcome The Jamie Lloyd Company’s statement and we hope that their statement will extend to committed emotional support for Francesca on her journey with the production. Too many times theatre companies, broadcasters, producers, [streamers] have failed to offer any help or support when their Black artists face racist and misogynistic abuse. Reporting is too often left on the shoulders of the abused who are also then expected to promote said show."

The petition ends with: "We want to send a clear message to Francesca and all Black women performers who face this kind of abuse—WE see you."

That's not the only letter of support publicly released for Amewudah-Rivers. A second letter released on, organized by actor Tamara Lawrance, is more specific in its demands of The Jamie Lloyd Company. It calls for the producer to take a number of specific measures, including providing Amewudah-Rivers and the show's Black cast members with security, therapy, and support against the "racist harassment," and public solidarity from the white members of the Romeo & Juliet cast. 

The petition reads, in part, "You have cast—presumably with intention—a predominantly global majority company for this show. It befalls you then to be aware of the implications of this, especially when staging Shakespeare, as bigots will often lampoon casting choices that don’t resemble whatever antiquated image they have in mind for these fictional characters. This casting alone is not the marker of inclusivity and progressiveness, nor is it allyship. In fact, casting that does not display awareness of the experiences of its cast is ultimately performative, and performative allyship is ultimately dangerous." 

At press time, over 7,000 people have signed the petition.

Tom Holland has not responded to the situation. Playbill has contacted The Jamie Lloyd Company for a response to these petitions and will update this story accordingly.

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