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‘Too Much To Bear’: Black Actors Condemn Racial Abuse Of Romeo & Juliet Star

More than 800 predominantly Black female and non-binary actors have signed an open letter in solidarity with Francesca Amewudah-Rivers, who has been targeted with online racial abuse after the announcement of her casting in a new production of Romeo & Juliet.

Lashana Lynch, Sheila Atim and Marianne Jean-Baptiste are among the 883 signatories of the letter, alongside actors Lolly Adefope, Freema Agyeman, Wunmi Mosaku, and Tamara Lawrance.

It reads: “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.”

It comes after a statement by the Jamie Lloyd theatre company condemning the “barrage of deplorable racial abuse” that has been directed at Amewudah-Rivers and saying further harassment would be reported.

The abuse, the company – run by the director Jamie Lloyd – said, followed the announcement of the show’s cast including Amewudah-Rivers as Juliet and Tom Holland as Romeo.

Wednesday’s letter, which was organised by Enola Holmes actor Susan Wokoma and the writer Somalia Nonyé Seaton, stated: “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.”

Lynch is best known for her roles in the Marvel Cinematic Universe films (MCU) as well as for playing MI6 agent Nomi in the 2021 James Bond film No Time to Die. Atim is a double Olivier award-winning Ugandan-British actor, singer, composer and playwright who has appeared in a number of stage and TV shows, while Jean-Baptiste came to prominence following her role in the 1996 film Secrets & Lies, for which she received Oscar, Golden Globe and Bafta nominations.

The signatories welcomed the theatre company’s statement and said they hoped it would “extend to committed emotional support for Francesca on her journey with the production”.

Lashana Lynch is among the 833 signatories of the letter, which said that Black women too often have to deal with racial attacks. Photograph: Roy Rochlin/Getty ImagesThey added: “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.

“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 runs at the Duke of York’s Theatre from 11 May to 3 August and marks Amewudah-Rivers’ West End debut. The actor has previously starred in Shakespeare plays Macbeth and Othello as well as Sophocles tragedy Antigone across London theatres. She also starred in two seasons of the Bad Education on BBC.

The play will also be the Spider-Man star Holland’s first big theatre role since his debut in Billy Elliot: the Musical.

Lloyd is known for mounting bold, megastar-led versions of classic plays such as Doctor Faustus with Kit Harington, Betrayal with Tom Hiddleston and The Seagull with Emilia Clarke. His new production of the musical Sunset Boulevard, with Nicole Scherzinger, recently ended a sold-out run at London’s Savoy theatre and is transferring to Broadway in September.

Last year Lloyd directed Taylor Russell and Paapa Essiedu in a revival of Lucy Prebble’s play The Effect at the National Theatre, before opening at the Shed in New York in March.

Romeo & Juliet is billed as “a pulsating new vision of Shakespeare’s immortal tale of wordsmiths, rhymers, lovers and fighters”.

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