‘Romeo and Juliet’: Racism in Verona

‘Romeo and Juliet’: Racism in Verona (@romeojulietldn via Instagram)

Los AngelesShouldn’t fictional characters be portrayed by the best actor/actress for the role regardless of color? One would think so. But when that doesn’t happen, people are triggered.

Last month, Spider-Man and esteemed actor Tom Holland posted on Instagram that he would be playing Romeo in a new production of William Shakespeare’s “Romeo & Juliet.” While many were excited, others came out of the woodwork feeling a particular way when it was announced that  Francesca Amewudah-Rivers, a Black actress, would be Juliet. 

This caused many of the crew and other actors to stand up for Amewudah-Rivers and say that not only is she deserving of the role, but also relit the fires that have started ever since Black women have been gaining roles for characters that are not originally Black. 

Amewudah-Rivers had every right to audition and be accepted for this role. Colorblind casting is not a new thing. In recent years, we have had Halle Bailey as Ariel in “The Little Mermaid” (2023), and an Academy Award-nominated performance by Denzel Washington for “The Tragedy of Macbeth.” This play is all about finding the right actors for these roles, especially Shakespearean roles where race doesn’t matter, all that matters is raw, unbridled talent and ferocity. Theater is passion and it takes a certain type of actor to nail the soliloquies and stagecraft for these skills. It is also horrendous how people who may not even be interested in Shakespearian plays and theater are acting like they are experts in the field of casting. 

Black people in Britain have been riddled with tabloids and fervor by publications such as The Sun, like how they attacked Meghan Markle. I don’t want other Black actresses being discouraged from taking big parts like this due to ignorant racists spouting that they know better. 

Colorism is also massive as shown in this post, many people want Zendaya to take the role of Juliet, not just because of her fairer skin, but due to her being in a relationship with Holland. Other actresses were shown in the post that are lighter skinned and/or conventionally attractive, which is a big detraction that deletes who the best person is for the role talent-wise. They want to focus on the aesthetics of Black women, rather than who is the best actor overall.

The Jamie Lloyd Theater Company wrote a letter supporting Amewudah-Rivers as they have become very close to her and know her talent, skills, and passion. All studios and companies should do the same whenever racist backlash happens. For example, Disney did not defend Kelly Marie Tran and John Boyega from these trolls back during the Star Wars sequel trilogy. 

But actor Ewan McGregor defended his co-star Moses Ingram from racist trolls in 2022.

These racists have clouded words and phrases such as “DEI,” diversity, equity, and inclusion, and “woke,” making them dog whistles for racial slurs, and co-opting them from other minorities to use them against us. Francesca Amewudah-Rivers, you will always be famous and we all have your back.

Strangely enough, historically Juliet has been played by a man

Zipporah Pruitt, (she/her) is an L.A. homegrown journalist, who covers entertainment and culture. Follow her on X and Instagram: @zippzapps.

Edited by Nykeya Woods

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