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Photo Credit: Jamie Lloyd Company

Francesca Amewudah-Rivers will be the perfect Juliet. (Op-Ed)

The theater company behind a new West End production of Romeo and Juliet has condemned the “deplorable racial abuse” directed towards one of its stars — Francesca Amewudah-Rivers. The cast, including Amewudah-Rivers as Juliet and Tom Holland as Romeo, was released a week ago, and racist comments have flooded social media. On Friday, the Jamie Lloyd Company said, “This must stop,” in a statement. “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,” they added. I believe that the talented Amewudah-Rivers will be the perfect Juliet.

To understand how vile these comments truly are, we must examine the history of Shakespearean productions. The original plays had an all-male cast, as women were not even allowed to perform; it was illegal for women to act on stage professionally until 1661. For those complaining about a black Juliet, I implore you to understand that the basis of theater has been rooted in racism and sexism. As theater grows and evolves, inclusivity is necessary. There is no reason that a black woman should be barred from an archaic play. The races of the characters are not at all central to the story, and this type of thinking is completely outdated.

Amewudah-Rivers will certainly deliver an unforgettable performance as Juliet and bring new life to the character. This is not the first time a black woman has been cast as Juliet; in 2013, Candola Rashad was praised for her portrayal of the Capulet girl. Why is Amewudah-Rivers receiving such backlash? Black women are historically underrepresented in theater, and Shakespearian plays are a great way for minorities to connect with an art that was originally forbidden to them. Romeo & Juliet is not a play about race, but about two lovers who cannot be with one another due to family politics.

This stunning actress has the credentials to back up her casting. Amewudah-Rivers is a British writer, composer, and actress who has worked on projects with Shakespeare’s Globe, the Actors Touring Company, the National Theatre, and more. In 2022, she co-wrote the short film Medea and composed its soundtrack. She has a unique knowledge of Shakespearian theater that most do not. I have seen many productions of Romeo & Juliet, and I have read the play countless times. I truly cannot imagine a better casting for Juliet.


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