Two Major Sponsors of Famed London Theater Back Out After Play Promotes Antisemitic Jewish Stereotype
by Shiryn Ghermezian
Two corporate sponsors of Britain’s famous Royal Court Theatre said they will no longer provide financial support for the venue after it faced allegations of Jewish stereotyping and promoting antisemitism.
A spokesperson for the law firm Kirkland & Ellis told the BBC, “We condemn in the strongest possible terms any and all forms of racism and discrimination, including anti-Semitism, and in light of the recent events, we were unable to continue our sponsorship.”
The law practice Weil, Gotshal & Manges — the theatre’s only “gold” level corporate sponsor — said, “Weil strongly condemns any form of antisemitism or discrimination, whether conscious or unconscious, and we will be withdrawing our support for the Royal Court.”
The Royal Court Theatre opened last month a play titled “Rare Earth Mettle,” by British playwright Al Smith, that featured a fictional, power-obsessed Silicon Valley billionaire and “Edison Motors” CEO named Hershel Fink. Promotions for the show described it as a “brutally comic exploration of risk, delusion and power.”
After receiving complaints about giving the character a Jewish-sounding name, despite the character not being Jewish, the Royal Court Theatre and Smith apologized for “perpetuating an antisemitic stereotype” and changed the character’s name to Henry Finn. They added that the incident was “an example of unconscious bias.”
“This image is a stereotype as it shows a Jewish person in a malevolent way, so it’s a racist depiction of a Jewish person – rich, controlling, in power,” Frances Jeens, interim director of London’s Jewish Museum, commented. “These are deeply hurtful stereotypes that have existed for centuries and is something that is very hurtful to the Jewish community today.”
It was revealed last month that the theatre was forewarned by a Jewish director in September about promoting stereotypes with the Hershel Fink character, but the Royal Court took no action at the time. The theatre said in a statement, “We are in conversations with this director as we hold ourselves accountable for why this was not taken further or passed on to the writer. This specific event will form part of the Board’s internal review.”
John Mann, the UK government’s independent adviser on antisemitism, told the BBC that companies financially supporting the Royal Court theatre should demand answers from the venue about what transpired.
“There should be resignations. It’s not credible to continue a major arts venue like this with that kind of approach, attitude,” he said. “This is horrendous stuff. It’s almost as simple as it gets. If this was some amateur dramatic society, I’d be horrified and want them to understand the hurt they’ve caused but this is a level far higher than that. And if people aren’t prepared to act on racism when it’s pointed out to them, they shouldn’t be in their roles, it’s as simple as that.”