Royal Court Theatre loses funding over antisemitic character name
Two major law firms have withdrawn funding from the Royal Court Theatre in the fall-out from the row over the naming of a billionaire villain as Hershel Fink.
The firms Kirkland & Ellis and Weil, Gotshal & Manges confirmed they will no longer fund the Sloane Square theatre.
The Royal Court was forced to apologise last month and change the name of the character in a new play following a huge backlash over “perpetuating an antisemitic stereotype.”
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Theatre chiefs agreed to change Hershel Fink, a non-Jewish part featured in Rare Earth Mettle by actor Al Smith, to Henry Finn.
On Thursday BBC London News aired promotional footage of the character – and also confirmed reports that warnings had been given by Jewish staff to the theatre about the use of the name for the character.
Confirming the decision to pull funding from the Royal Court as a result of the row a spokesperson for Kirkland & Ellis said: “We condemn in the strongest possible terms any and all forms of racism and discrimination, including antisemitism, and in light of the recent events, we were unable to continue our sponsorship.”
Weil, Gotshal & Manges also confirmed : “Weil strongly condemns any form of antisemitism or discrimination, whether conscious or unconscious, and we will be withdrawing our support for the Royal Court.”
After critics pointed out the antisemitic connotations of the name, the Royal Court initially said character was not actually Jewish.
Author David Baddiel wrote on Twitter: ‘Apparently @royalcourt claim they didn’t realise ‘Hershel Fink’ was a Jewish name.
‘Hmm. Somehow it just sounded so right for a world conquering billionaire. I’ve written a play.”
The radical theatre, who have had a history of staging plays that had angered many British Jews, then admitted the naming of the character was an example of “unconscious bias” and changed it, apologising “unreservedly.”
Royal Court Theatre
In a statement, the Royal Court said it would: “reflect on the process that enabled the name to remain and what is missing in our systems that would have mitigated this unnecessary harm”.
Interim Director of London’s Jewish Museum Frances Jeens was amongst those to criticise the character.
“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.
“These are deeply hurtful stereotypes that have existed for centuries and is something that is very hurtful to the Jewish community today.”
Meanwhile the government’s independent antisemitism adviser Lord Mann told Jewish News : “I think that there needs be antisemitism awareness training for the arts world, starting with the Royal Court.
“I wouldn’t contemplate ever going there unless and until they sort themselves out and I know others who feel the same.”
The BBC also reported they received no response to queries directed to other Royal Court donors, including Aqua Financial Ltd, Cadogan, Colbert, Edwardian Hotels London, Kudos, Sloane Stanley, Bloomberg Philanthropies and Left Bank Pictures.
They are all listed as corporate sponsors or platinum/gold or silver corporate members of the theatre.
The BBC say two other sponsors, Sister and Auriens, declined to comment.