“Percy Jackson” author Rick Riordan published a blog post May 10 condemning the racist backlash against Leah Jeffries, the young actor who is set to play Annabeth Chase in the upcoming Disney+ series “Percy Jackson and the Olympians.” Variety exclusively reported Jeffries’ casting on May 5. The actor will star in the show opposite Walker Scobell as Percy and Aryan Simhadri as Grover. Some “Percy Jackson” fans have expressed outrage online over Jeffries playing Annabeth because the Black actor does not match the skin color of the character as originally written in Riordan’s novels.
“This post is specifically for those who have a problem with the casting of Leah Jeffries as Annabeth Chase,” Riordan writes. “It’s a shame such posts need to be written, but they do…Leah brings so much energy and enthusiasm to this role, so much of Annabeth’s strength. She will be a role model for new generations of girls who will see in her the kind of hero they want to be.”
Riordan continues, “If you have a problem with this casting, however, take it up with me. You have no one else to blame. 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.”
When Riordan and Disney started an open casting call for the series, they followed Disney’s company policy on nondiscrimination. The company is “committed to diverse, inclusive casting” and opened up the casting search “without regard to disability, gender, race and ethnicity, age, color, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity or any other basis prohibited by law.”
“Some of you have apparently felt offended or exasperated when your objections are called out online as racist. ‘But I am not racist,’ you say. ‘It is not racist to want an actor who is accurate to the book’s description of the character,'” Riordan writes. “Let’s examine that statement. You are upset/disappointed/frustrated/angry because a Black actor has been cast to play a character who was described as white in the books…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.”
Riordan also alluded to the fact that he signed off on the casting and that fans of “Percy Jackson” should, at the very least, trust the creator of “Percy Jackson” to cast the actor who best fits the role.
“You refuse to believe me, the guy who wrote the books and created these characters, when I say that these actors are perfect for the roles because of the talent they bring and the way they used their auditions to expand, improve and electrify the lines they were given,” Riordan writes. “Once you see Leah as Annabeth, she will become exactly the way you imagine Annabeth, assuming you give her that chance, but you refuse to credit that this may be true.”
“Percy Jackson and the Olympians” will tell the fantastical tale of the titular 12-year-old modern demigod (Scobell), who’s just coming to terms with his newfound supernatural powers when the sky god Zeus accuses him of stealing his master lightning bolt. With help from his friends Grover and Annabeth, Percy must embark on an adventure of a lifetime to find it and restore order to Olympus. Production on “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” will begin soon in Vancouver.
Head to Riordan’s website to read his blog post in its entirety.