Francesca Amewudah-Rivers’ ‘Romeo & Juliet’ Role Renews Black Actors’ Fight Against Racism

The recent casting of Francesca Amewudah-Rivers, a British-Ghanaian actress, as Juliet in a new production of "Romeo & Juliet" at the West End has ignited a firestorm of racial abuse.

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Francesca Amewudah-Rivers' 'Romeo & Juliet' Role Renews Black Actors' Fight Against Racism
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A daring new interpretation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet has sparked a renewed debate on diversity and representation. The recent casting of  British-Ghanaian actress, Francesca Amewudah-Rivers, as Juliet has ignited a firestorm of racial abuse online. Amewudah-Rivers has been subjected to vile online comments insisting that Juliet is a white character.

Some individuals argue that the backlash against Amewudah-Rivers stems from a resistance to what they perceive as “blackwashing” or unnecessary diversification of roles in Hollywood. They express frustration with what they see as forced diversity, suggesting that it detracts from the authenticity of the art form.

One individual wrote, “Doesn’t look like Juliette to me Stick to the story don’t incorporate black characters into a white story it’s robbing them off history it’s like getting a white woman to play Harriet Tubman”

Others, however, vehemently oppose this viewpoint, emphasizing the importance of standing against racism and discrimination in all forms.

In a collective stand against discrimination, more than 800 Black actors, including prominent figures such as Lashana Lynch, Sheila Atim, and Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Viola Davis have signed an open letter condemning the racial abuse directed at Amewudah-Rivers.

Viola Davis who has faced her fair share of racial discrimination on set penned a heartfelt message for Francessa, she wrote “I stand in solidarity with EVERY Black artist EVERYWHERE! Ability and talent are gifts that should not be seen or used as limitations because of Race. Perhaps the real question for those who took it upon themselves to spout this abuse is… ‘Why does it bother you so much?’ To the artists in this production and any other: SOAR, RISE, INSPIRE. Lay the seeds for the next generation so this narrative of nonsensical HATE can stop! And to Francesca, you are FRIGGIN’ BEAUTIFUL!!!! …she hangs upon the cheek of night Like a rich jewel in an Ethiope’s ear; Beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear!” 

The theater company staging the production, the Jamie Lloyd Company, has unequivocally condemned the racial abuse directed at Amewudah-Rivers, rightly asserting that such behavior has no place in civilized society. 

“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 communities.”

Jamie Lloyd Company

Amewudah-Rivers’ experience is unfortunately not unique. Halle Bailey as Ariel in the 2022 live-action remake of The Little Mermaid faced significant backlash from some fans who claimed Ariel was meant to be white. The hashtag “#NotMyAriel” trended on social media. Also, Zendaya as Mary Jane Watson in the 2017 film Spider-Man: Homecoming led to some fan backlash, with claims of “forced diversity.”

Despite the backlash, Amewudah-Rivers’ big break into the West End marks a huge step forward in her acting career. Though she’s fairly new to the scene, she’s already caught people’s attention with roles in TV shows, plays, and short films, like “Bad Education.” But snagging the part of Juliet in the West End production of “Romeo & Juliet” is a whole new level for her.

When asked about her casting, she said, “I’m so grateful to be making my West End debut as Juliet with The Jamie Lloyd Company.” She’s pumped to work with Jamie Lloyd and her co-star, the famous Tom Holland. “It’s a dream to be joining this team of incredible artists with Jamie leading the way,” she added. “I’m excited to bring a fresh energy to this story alongside Tom and to welcome new audiences to the theatre.”

West End’s Romeo and Juliet starts at the Duke of York’s Theatre on May 23 and runs until August 3. 

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