Rick Riordan, the author of the Percy Jackson books, defended the casting of Leah Jeffries as Annabeth Chase in Disney’s upcoming series adaptation, after some fans of the books questioned the move. Riordan called out the critics as racist in his blog, on Tuesday.
“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,” the 57-year-old author wrote.
He also said that Jeffries will be a role model for new generations of girls who will see in her the kind of hero they want to be.
The casting of Jeffries, Walker Scobell, and Aryan Simhadri, as Annabeth Chase, Percy Jackson, and Grover Underwood, respectively, was announced last week. The trio is set to feature in the Disney+ series Percy Jackson and the Olympians, which narrates the story of the titular 12-year-old modern demigod, who is trying to come to terms with his newfound divine powers, when the sky god Zeus accuses him of stealing his master lightning bolt.
Simhadri’s Grover is a satyr (half-boy and half-goat) who is disguised as a 12-year-old boy, while Jeffries’ Annabeth is the true daughter of the Greek goddess Athena.
Shortly after the announcement, fans of the series expressed their disappointment with Jeffries’ casting on the grounds that she did not represent the character as described in the book.
A fan wrote, “You skipped the whole part where it says ‘what I thought a stereotypical California girl would look like’. I’m disappointed in the fact they had Annabeth already pictured and portrayed but still completely switched it up for no real reason besides being ‘woke’.”
The same user responded to another user noting that perhaps Jeffries was more qualified, and wrote, “I’m sure she’s very qualified. I’m not criticizing the actress but I’m just surprised by the selection. It’s not about race but about how awkward it is. Disney is all about diversifying to appease for money and will just screw over the book material if they want to.”
Riordan’s blog post came as a reaction to such criticism. He wrote, “If you have a problem with this casting, take it up with me. You have no one else to blame,” and added that bullying and harassing a child online is inexcusable and wrong.
He further noted that the casting of the trio took one year, and the reactions on social media chose to dismiss the fact that Jeffries’ casting could be 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. And by the way, these criticisms have come from across the political spectrum, right and left,” Riordan wrote.
Alexandra Daddario, who played Annabeth in the two film adaptations of the books, namely The Lightning Thief (2010) and Sea of Monsters (2013), also expressed support for Jeffries and wrote on Twitter, “Leah Jeffries is going to be an incredible Annabeth!”
The new Disney+ series will soon begin production in Vancouver.