Leah Sava Jeffries will play Annabeth Chase in Percy Jackson and the Olympians on Disney+. And while the vast majority of the Percy Jackson fandom is celebrating the fact that Annabeth will be played by a Black actor, there are unfortunately those spewing hate over Jeffries’ casting.
Percy Jackson author Rick Riordan responded to the racist social media hate on his personal blog, slamming those with prejudice over the 12-year-old star’s casting as the brilliant daughter of Athena. He starts off saying he’s speaking for himself, not for Disney, the show and all crew involved, or Jeffries and her family. He’s saddened his statement is required, but feels it’s important to strongly reject the hatred, noting that “the casting of Leah has been overwhelmingly positive and joyous, as it should be.”
“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,” he says. “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 then reminds people that throughout the Percy Jackson and the Olympians casting process, they were expressive about their commitment to creating a diverse cast. Their goal throughout the “exhaustive” audition process was to find “the best actors to inhabit and bring to life the personalities of these characters,” noting that physical appearance was secondary.”
“This trio is the best,” he says. “Leah Jeffries is Annabeth Chase.” And then, he really goes in.
“Some of you have apparently felt offended or exasperated when your objections are called out online as racist,” the author writes. “‘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!’ 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. ‘She doesn’t look the way I always imagined.’”
— Percy Jackson (@PercySeries) May 5, 2022
“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,” he continues. “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. And by the way, these criticisms have come from across the political spectrum, right and left.”
“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,” the author goes on. “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.
“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.”
Thank you for standing up for Black girls, @rickriordan. It’s been heartbreaking to see this talented actress get treated like this. I’ve been wrecked watching from the sidelines. She is extraordinary. I can’t wait to see her as Annabeth! https://t.co/47qkPaGBqt
— Dhonielle Clayton Updates! (@brownbookworm) May 10, 2022
For those unfamiliar with Riordan’s history, the author has always championed diversity in his books’ central themes, among his fanbase, and clearly throughout the casting process of the Disney+ series. If you didn’t know that about Riordan and the PJO fandom by now, you’ve been ignoring what’s in plain sight. Riordan noted this in statement.
“The core message of Percy Jackson has always been that difference is strength. 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,” he writes. “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.”
And that’s that. Fans of the series and Jeffries’ casting are now flooding Twitter with positive tweets about the actor under the hashtag #LeahIsOurAnnabeth. Consider this our official contribution to that celebratory discourse.
Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Series Premiere, TBA, Disney+