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Tom Holland’s ‘Romeo & Juliet’ costar Francesca Amewudah-Rivers receives support after her casting sparks racist remarks

<i>Getty Images/AP via CNN Newsource</i><br/>More than 800 Black actors are denouncing backlash aimed at actor Francesca Amewudah-Rivers
Getty Images/AP via CNN Newsource
More than 800 Black actors are denouncing backlash aimed at actor Francesca Amewudah-Rivers

By Elizabeth Wagmeister, CNN

(CNN) — More than 800 Black actors are denouncing backlash aimed at actor Francesca Amewudah-Rivers, who was cast to play Juliet opposite Tom Holland in an upcoming stage production of “Romeo & Juliet” in London’s West End.

After Amewudah-Rivers’ casting announcement, online backlash was fierce, even prompting the Jamie Lloyd Company – which is behind the theater production – to issue a statement on social media earlier this month, condemning a “barrage of deplorable racial abuse online directed towards a member of our company.”

While the company’s statement did not mention Amewudah-Rivers by name, an open letter in support of Amewaduh-Rivers, who is known for her work in the series “Bad Education,” followed.

“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,” the letter, organized by playwright Somalia Nonyé Seaton, stated. “But then what followed was a too familiar horror that too 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,” the letter continued. “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. 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.”

The message later continued, “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.”

Among the hundreds who signed the letter are “James Bond” and Marvel star Lashana Lynch, Freema Agyeman (“Doctor Who”), Susan Wokoma (“Enola Holmes”), Sheila Atim (“The Woman King”), Oscar nominee Marianne Jean-Baptiste (“Secrets & Lies”) and Lolly Adefope (“Ghosts”).

When The Jamie Lloyd Company issued its tweet decrying the online behavior, the theater company said, “This must stop… 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.”

Oscar-winning actor Viola Davis posted about Amewudah-Rivers and the “nonsensical hate” she has been receiving. “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,” Davis wrote Wednesday on her Instagram. “Perhaps the real question for those who took it upon themselves to spout this abuse is… ‘Why does it bother you so much?’”

Amewudah-Rivers will play opposite “Spider-Man” star Holland in the Jamie Lloyd Company’s production of the Shakespeare classic, set to open at London’s Duke of York’s Theatre this summer. The play is already sold out.

“Romeo & Juliet” opens on May 23 and will play through August 3.

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