Explained: The Controversy Over Casting Of Juliet Opposite Tom Holland's Romeo

Tom Holland has not publicly addressed the controversy surrounding Francesca Amewudah-Rivers' casting

Explained: The Controversy Over Casting Of Juliet Opposite Tom Holland's Romeo

Posters of Romeo & Juliet. courtesy: romeojulietldn)

New Delhi:

Several prominent Black actors, including Lashana Lynch and Susan Wokoma, have signed an open letter condemning the abuse faced by Francesca Amewudah-Rivers following her casting as Juliet in a West End production of Romeo & Juliet. The letter, organised by Wokoma and writer Somalia Nonyé Seaton, has garnered over 880 signatures till now. It highlights the racist and misogynistic abuse directed at Francesca Amewudah-Rivers and calls for support and recognition of Black performers facing such harassment.

The letter read, "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 too many of us visible-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 added, "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. Too many times theatre companies, broadcasters, producers, steamers 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."

"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 misogyny. Those who came before you are by your side. Those waiting in the wings, are by your side," the open letter concluded.

For the unversed, the controversy ignited when The Jamie Lloyd Company announced Francesca Amewudah-Rivers as Juliet alongside Tom Holland as Romeo in the upcoming staging of Shakespeare's tragedy. While Tom Holland's casting was met with excitement, Francesca Amewudah-Rivers faced a barrage of online abuse, with some questioning her suitability for the role and making derogatory remarks about her appearance, including comparisons to men and statements that a "white" actress should portray Juliet. Eventually, the option to comment on her casting announcement post was disabled due to the escalating situation.

Responding to the severe backlash, Jamie Lloyd Productions, the organisation behind the Shakespeare revival, issued a statement on April 7 condemning the racial abuse directed at Francesca, stating, "This must stop."

The statement read, “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,” shared the memo. “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, 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,” it concluded."

Romeo & Juliet also stars Freema Agyeman, Michael Balogun, and others. The production is set to run from May 11 to August 3 at the Duke of York's Theatre, with tickets for the 12-week run already sold out. Notably, Tom Holland has not publicly addressed the controversy surrounding Francesca Amewudah-Rivers' casting.