Posted on May 12, 2022

Percy Jackson Author Slams Trolls Who Are Furious Over Casting of Black Actress in a ‘White Role’

Caitlyn Becker, Daily Mail, May 10, 2022

Percy Jackson author Rick Riordan put ‘racist’ trolls on blast in a scathing statement following the online harassment of 12-year-old Leah Jeffries, a black actress, who was recently cast in the TV adaptation of the fantasy series.

In a post shared to his website Tuesday, Riordan slammed a subset of fans upset that the role of Annabeth, which is ‘described as white in the books,’ will be played by a young Black girl. ‘Friends, that is racism,’ he wrote.

The 57-year-old expressed his sadness that he even had to defend the casting and said in no uncertain terms that the role went to the best actress for the part, adding: ‘We should be able to agree that bullying and harassing a child online is inexcusably wrong.’

‘This post is specifically for those who have a problem with the casting of Leah Jeffries as Annabeth Chase,’ Riordan penned.

Last week Disney+ rounded out the cast of the upcoming series, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, announcing Leah Jeffries and Aryan Simhadri as Annabeth and Grover.

‘The response to the casting of Leah has been overwhelmingly positive and joyous, as it should be. 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,’ he continued.

‘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,’ the author wrote.

The Annabeth character is ‘described as white in the books’ and was played by white actress Alexandra Daddario in the film series but to cast the television adaptation, Riordan explained that the team employed ‘Disney’s company policy on nondiscrimination.’

This meant that the casting department sought ‘qualified performers, without regard to disability, gender, race and ethnicity, age, color, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity or any other basis prohibited by law.’

Riordan, who was heavily involved in the process, called it ‘long, intense, massive and exhaustive’ but worth it because it led to finding the ‘best of the best.’

‘Leah Jeffries is Annabeth Chase,’ he said point blank.

‘Some of you have apparently felt offended or exasperated when your objections are called out online as racist,’ he explained.

‘You either are not aware, or have dismissed, Leah’s years of hard work honing her craft, her talent, her tenacity, her focus, her screen presence. You refuse to believe her selection could have been based on merit.

‘Without having seen her play the part, you have pre-judged her (pre + judge = prejudice) and decided she must have been hired simply to fill a quota or tick a diversity box,’ he rebuked.

Riordan pointed out the critics believe that he – the creator of the characters – ‘must have been coerced, brainwashed, bribed, threatened, whatever, or I as a white male author never would have chosen a Black actor for the part of this canonically white girl.’

In the series, Percy Jackson – a demigod who is half mortal human and half immortal god – is accused by the sky god Zeus of stealing his master lightning bolt.

Percy must now go on a journey across America to find this lightning bolt and returning to Zeus on Olympus with the aid of his pals Annabeth and Grover.

‘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,’ Riordan wrote. ‘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 went on to say that he is proud of this new series and that it ‘honors the spirit of Percy Jackson and the Olympians.’

Adding: ‘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.’

Riordan will co-write the pilot script with Jon Steinberg, with James Bobin set to direct the pilot episode. Production is expected to start shortly in Vancouver, according to Variety.

Steinberg will oversee the series with his producing partner Dan Shotz, who will also executive produce with Riordan, Bobin, Rebecca Riordan, Bert Salke, Monica Owusu-Breen, Jim Rowe and The Gotham Group’s Ellen Goldsmith-Vein, Jeremy Bell and D.J. Goldberg.

The first of Riordan’s books – Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief – was adapted into a feature film back in 2010, starring Logan Lerman as Percy Jackson, Alexandra Daddario as Annabeth Chase and Brandon T. Jackson as Grover Underwood.

They also starred in the 2013 sequel Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, though they other books in the franchise were never adapted.