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November 8, 2021 4:27 pm
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London Theater Apologizes, Changes ‘Jewish’ Name of Billionaire Character After Accusations of Stereotyping

avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

The Royal Court Theatre in London. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The popular Royal Court Theatre in London apologized twice after it was accused of Jewish stereotyping and perpetuating antisemitism through the lead character in its new play.

“Rare Earth Mettle,” authored by British playwright Al Smith, features a fictional Silicon Valley billionaire and Edison Motors CEO named Hershel Fink who wants to “save the world” by building affordable electric cars. The show opens on Wednesday and has been promoted as a “brutally comic exploration of risk, delusion and power spanning Bolivia, the US and the UK.”

After receiving angry complaints about giving the Elon Musk-inspired character a Jewish-sounding name, the theater apologized on Saturday and said Smith has since renamed the character Henry Finn. The incident is “an example of unconscious bias and we will reflect deeply on how this has happened in the coming days,” Royal Court explained. “We and the writer are deeply sorry for the harm caused.” The theater also clarified that the character is not Jewish and is not referred to as such in the show.

Musk, the South Africa-born billionaire founder of the electric auto company Tesla, is not Jewish.

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“The Royal Court Theatre apologizes unreservedly for this situation. It was a mistake, it shouldn’t have happened, and we are sorry it did,” it said in a second statement on its website on Saturday. “We stand in solidarity with our Jewish staff, artists, audiences and friends and are grateful to those who got in touch to communicate that the character named Hershel Fink was perpetuating an antisemitic stereotype.” The character’s new name “will be effective from the first performances next week, and we shall reprint all communications and the play text with this change,” the statement continued.

The theater said it is “looking towards the dialogue that will help us reflect on the process that enabled the name to remain,” and how it could “have mitigated this unnecessary harm.”

“Jews Don’t Count” author and comedian David Baddiel was among those who criticized the theater over the incident. “The Royal Court claims they didn’t realize ‘Hershel Fink’ was a Jewish name,” he posted on Twitter. “Hmmm. Somehow it just sounded so right for a world-conquering billionaire.”

Actress Olivia Mace concurred that a character with that name “resembles a negative Jewish stereotype.” London-based theater director and producer Adam Lenson accused the theater of “systematic racism” and tweeted, “Casually making a Silicon Valley billionaire Jewish perpetuates antisemitic stereotypes and will cause ideological harm.” He described Royal Court’s two apologizes as rushed and “unacceptable,” and on Sunday told the theater, “Quick and dishonest responses only keep the fire burning.”

“Apologies mean nothing without context and transparency and honesty,” he added in a series of tweets. “I would have preferred them to act a bit slower and apologize properly. The need to airfreshen their PR and convince everyone its handled quickly is as much a mistake as the initial mistake.”

In April, Royal Court announced a two-year partnership with the London-based charity Sour Lemons that will examine how the theater’s “internal structures” promote systemic racism and “create barriers for underrepresented communities.” Sour Lemons said in an “interim response” to the latest controversy that it is “sorry and sad” to hear about the incident, and stands in solidarity with the Jewish community.

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