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Percy Jackson & the Olympians is a five-book fantasy series in which Greek Gods are around in the present day and adventure ensures. The books were published in the mid-aughts and two movies based on them came out in 2010 and 2013. Now the books are being adapted into a Disney+ series and casting was recently announced.
A young actress named Leah Jeffries was cast as Annabeth Chase, who was portrayed by Alexandra Daddario in the movies. And wouldn’t you know, there was racist backlash against Leah’s casting because she is Black and Annabeth is described as having blonde hair and light eyes in the book. So-called fans really bullied this 12-year-old girl and got her TikTok banned because they were unhappy with her casting. Rick Riordan, the books’ author, wrote a detailed blog post speaking out against the backlash and its inherent racism.
Rick Riordan, author of the popular YA adventure novel series Percy Jackson and the Olympians, is speaking out amid backlash in casting one of his characters in Disney+’s upcoming series adaptation.
In a blog post Tuesday, Riordan criticized those “who have a problem with the casting of Leah Jeffries as Annabeth Chase,” saying “It’s a shame such posts need to be written, but they do.”
Jeffries, whose credits include Empire, was cast last week along with Aryan Simhadri to to star alongside Walker Scobell who will play Percy Jackson in the 20th Television-produced series. Simhadri and Jeffries will play Percy’s friends Grover and Annabeth, respectively. Production is starting soon in Vancouver.
In the book series, Annabeth is a true daughter of the Greek goddess Athena, a brilliant strategist with an active and curious mind. After having spent the last five years at Camp Half-Blood, she longs to test her mettle in the human world, of which she barely remembers. She trains Percy to survive the mythological world, and in turn, he helps her connect with her humanity. She is also portrayed in the books as white.
“I have been clear, as the author, that I was looking for the best actors to inhabit and bring to life the personalities of these characters, and that physical appearance was secondary for me,” Riordan wrote. “We did that. We took a year to do this process thoroughly and find the best of the best. This trio is the best. Leah Jeffries is Annabeth Chase.”
He added: “You are judging her appropriateness for this role solely and exclusively on how she looks. She is a Black girl playing someone who was described in the books as white.
“Friends, that is racism.”
He also called it bullying, saying, “Whatever else you take from this post, we should be able to agree that bullying and harassing a child online is inexcusably wrong. As strong as Leah is, as much as we have discussed the potential for this kind of reaction and the intense pressure this role will bring, the negative comments she has received online are out of line. They need to stop. Now.”
Riordan said the production followed Disney’s company policy on nondiscrimination, and that the casting process “was long, intense, massive and exhaustive.”
“The core message of Percy Jackson has always been that difference is strength,” he wrote. “There is power in plurality. The things that distinguish us from one another are often our marks of individual greatness. You should never judge someone by how well they fit your preconceived notions. That neurodivergent kid who has failed out of six schools, for instance, may well be the son of Poseidon. Anyone can be a hero.
“If you don’t get that, if you’re still upset about the casting of this marvelous trio, then it doesn’t matter how many times you have read the books. You didn’t learn anything from them.”
The whole blog post is worth a read. Rick is very involved in the adaptation, including writing, production, and casting. And he’s completely supportive of Leah’s casting and diverse casting in general, saying that they was looking for “the best actors to inhabit and bring to life the personalities of these characters, and that physical appearance was secondary.” Which is exactly right since it’s a fictional character. And it’s a fantasy series. If you can suspend disbelief that Greek Gods and mythology are (a) real and (b) around in the 21st century, you can certainly suspend disbelief that someone may not look exactly as their character was canonically described. I’m really glad Rick stuck up for Leah and called it what it is: racism, whether or not the “fans” realize it. And I’m guessing they do. I don’t recall anyone being this upset (or upset at all) that Daniel Radcliffe was definitely not 6′ and didn’t have the green eyes that were such an important part of Harry Potter‘s story, or that Jennifer Lawrence was taller and healthier-looking than Katniss Everdeen was described to be. But I do remember people saying they were less sad when Rue died in the movie because they didn’t realize she was Black in the books.
Alexandra Daddario posted a message of support too. I can’t get over the fact that these fans — many of whom are presumably adults based on when the books and movies came out — bullied an actual child online.
Leah Jeffries is going to be an incredible Annabeth!!!
— Alexandra Daddario (@AADaddario) May 10, 2022
Leah Jeffries speaks out about her Tik Tok being banned following the announcement of her casting as Annabeth Chase in the upcoming Percy Jackson series. #PJOCastDeservesRespect
— Off Colour (@OffColourOrg) May 10, 2022