Francesca Amewudah-Rivers: Rising Above Racial Bullying As Juliet

Francesca Amewudah-Rivers: Rising Above Racial Bullying As Juliet

When Francesca Amewudah-Rivers, the Ghanaian-born writer, composer and actress was cast as Juliet in an upcoming London West End production of Romeo & Juliet by Jamie Lloyd company scheduled to premiere in May 2024, what should have been a celebratory moment was instead received with racial and misogynistic abuse, which has often been directed at black women in the creative space. 

Francesca has an extensive and impressive theatrical experience. She has starred in productions like Othello, Macbeth as well as the BBC drama, Bad Education, and many others including; an adaptation by Merlynn Tong of ‘Sophocles’ Greek tragedy ‘Antigone’ at the Mercury Theatre Colchester, ‘Animal Farm’ and ‘Ordinary Miracle’. However, despite a record of these outstanding stellar performances, Francesca found herself targeted by hateful comments and discriminatory behavior, solely based on her race. The irony of being bullied in a role meant to celebrate love and acceptance was not lost on her. 

This is not an isolated incident. Actresses like Halle Bailey (Ariel in “The Little Mermaid”) and Ambika Mod (Netflix’s “One Day”) have faced similar online harassment for playing non-white characters in traditionally white roles.

The racist backlash sparked outrage within the theater community. The production company, Jamie Lloyd Company, condemned the abuse and called for an end to the negativity.

In a strong show of solidarity, over 800 Black actors signed an open letter organized by playwright Somalia Nonyé Seaton. The letter not only condemned the abuse directed at Amewudah-Rivers but also highlighted the broader issue of Black female performers facing online attacks, extending their support to these women who have endured harsh criticisms.


The racist and misogynistic abuse directed at such a sweet soul has been too much to bear,” the letter said. “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 ‘’Romeo & Juliet’’ producer, Jamie Lloyd Company, released a statement responding to the negative reactions, pleading for the critiques to end. “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,” the statement read. “This must stop…” 

The intensity of the backlash against Amewudah-Rivers, particularly for a dark-skinned actress, suggests a deeper bias. Reports by organizations like Glitch highlight the prevalence of unchecked online misogynoir targeting Black women.

The controversy surrounding Amewudah-Rivers’ casting highlights the ongoing debate about race and representation in theater.  However, the practice of colorblind casting, where ethnicity is not a factor, is not new. In recent years, Paapa Essiedu played Hamlet and Danny Sipani took on King Lear on the UK stage. Actresses like Sophie Okendo have graced Shakespearean roles for decades.

The industry’s strong response also sends a message that racist abuse will not be tolerated, because Francesca’s pure talent earned her the coveted role, and Francesca Amewudah-Rivers IS Juliet. 

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