Tom Holland and Francesca Amewudah-Rivers in red for Romeo and Juliet

Black Creatives Sign Open Letter in Solidarity With ‘Romeo and Juliet’ Actress Francesca Amewudah-Rivers

When a new West End version of Romeo and Juliet was announced, starring Spider-Man actor Tom Holland opposite talented Shakespearian actress Francesca Amewudah-Rivers, it should have been cause for celebration. But a bunch of racists online immediately ruined it simply because Amewudah-Rivers is Black.

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There was an outpouring of hate online and hysterical cries of “woke!” from a lot of people who were never going to see the West End production in the first place. Some appeared to believe that Romeo and Juliet were real people instead of fictional characters who have been interpreted many different ways over the centuries. Others used a tired old dogwhistle and unconvincingly claimed that they didn’t care what race Juliet was, it only mattered that they thought Amewudah-Rivers “wasn’t attractive enough” to play her. Juliet is thirteen years old in the play. The idea of casting someone to play a child based on their own subjective opinion of “hotness” is a truly gross one.

It was a shameful thing to witness but now an 800-strong group of prominent Black women and nonbinary people have signed a letter in support of Amewudah-Rivers. The letter was put together by actor Susan Wokoma and writer Somalia Nonyé Seaton, and many famous British actresses are on the list, including MCU star Lashana Lynch (who herself played Rosaline Capulet in the Romeo and Juliet-inspired 2017 drama series Still Star-Crossed). Oscar nominee Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Freema Agyeman of Doctor Who, and Wunmi Mosaku of Loki are also signatories.

Over eight hundred people signed the letter of support

The letter can be found on Google Docs, and it reads:

“When news of Francesca Amewudah-Rivers’ casting in Jamie Lloyd’s production of Romeo and 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.”

The letter goes on to praise the Jamie Lloyd company for releasing a statement in support of Amewudah-Rivers and note, “we hope that their statement will extend to committed emotional support for Francesca on her journey with the production. Too many times theater companies, broadcasters, producers, streamers have failed to offer any help or support when their black artists face racist and misogynistic abuse.” Depressingly, many Black performers have found themselves on the receiving end of “anti-woke” bile in just the past few years, including Moses Ingram of Star Wars and Halle Bailey of The Little Mermaid.

The letter concludes, “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. Those that came before you are by your side. Those waiting in the wings, are by your side.”

Let us hope that a time will come soon when Black actresses don’t have to face the worst people on the internet after winning prominent roles.

(featured image: Jamie Lloyd Company)


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Author
Sarah Barrett
Sarah Barrett (she/her) is a freelance writer with The Mary Sue who has been working in journalism since 2014. She loves to write about movies, even the bad ones. (Especially the bad ones.) The Raimi Spider-Man trilogy and the Star Wars prequels changed her life in many interesting ways. She lives in one of the very, very few good parts of England.