Skip to main content

Home Film Film News

‘Romeo & Juliet’ star receives support from over 800 Black actors decrying ‘racist and misogynistic abuse’

Francesca Amewudah-Rivers, who stars alongside Tom Holland in 'Romeo & Juliet' in London, has faced racist online attacks since her casting was announced

By Althea Legaspi

Francesca Amewudah-Rivers, who stars alongside Tom Holland in 'Romeo & Juliet' in London, has faced racist online attacks since her casting was announced

More than 800 Black women — including Lashana Lynch and Sheila Atim — and non-binary actors signed an open letter in support of Francesca Amewudah-Rivers, who has been the target of online racial abuse following the announcement of her casting as Juliet in a London West End production of Romeo & Juliet. She is set to star alongside Tom Holland’s Romeo in the play.

The letter, which The Guardian published on Wednesday, was spearheaded by Enola Holmes actor Susan Wokoma and Crowning Glory playwright Somalia Nonyé Seaton. It begins: “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.”

Secrets & Lies’ Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Ghosts’ Lolly Adefope, Doctor Who’s  Freema Agyeman, His House’s Wunmi Mosaku, and The Silent Twins’ Tamara Lawrance are among those who signed the letter in solidarity.

Last week, Romeo & Juliet producer Jamie Lloyd Company issued a statement decrying the online racial abuse. “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 anyone being specifically targeted and praised its artists. “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.”

On Wednesday, the signatories welcomed the show producer’s statement and added 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.”

Romeo & Juliet is Amewudah-Rivers’ West End debut. She previously appeared in BBC’s Bad Education and in Shakespeare theater productions of MacBethOthello, and Antigone.

Romeo & Juliet opens on May 23 at Duke of York’s Theatre in London with a run through Aug. 3. It is sold out.

From Rolling Stone.