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Author Rick Riordan Addresses Comments Directed at 'Percy Jackson' Casting: 'Friends, That Is Racism'

By James Field | TV | May 11, 2022 |

By James Field | TV | May 11, 2022 |


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People are the worst.

Less than a week ago, author Rick Riordan announced the casting of Aryan Simhadri as Grover and Leah Sava Jeffries as Annabeth Chase in Disney’s upcoming Percy Jackson & the Olympians series. Jeffries, 12, previously starred in the series Rel and is playing Idris Elba’s daughter in the upcoming Beast. By all accounts she’s a talented young woman, and Riordan was thrilled with the casting.

Leah is exactly the way I imagined Annabeth in the books: smart, strong and courageous, a true daughter of Athena who has zero patience for the foolishness of a certain Seaweed Brain. Watching her act with Walker and Aryan, I saw Annabeth Chase come to life. As soon as you see her on the screen, you will know what I mean. The Wise Girl has arrived!

Most of the internet celebrated. But because people are, again, the worst, there have been the usual complaints about the casting of a Black actress in the role of a girl who is canonically white. How many? I don’t know, and I’m not going to broaden their reach by posting them here. Enough that Riordan felt the need to address toxic fans and trolls in a lengthy blog post. It’s worth reading in its entirety here, but here’s the gist.

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.

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.

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Hey, remember that time Zeus banged Leda while he was in the shape of a swan, leading to the birth of Helen and Pollux? Or when he became a “shower of gold” — kinky — and knocked up Danaë, who gave birth to Perseus? Or when he ate a lady Titan, and gave birth to Athena himself when she emerged fully grown from his forehead? His brother Poseidon disguised himself as Tyro’s husband and impregnated her before turning into a stallion so he could rape Demeter, creating a horse baby. He also fathered a child on his own granddaughter, which… ick.

I bring up the many relationships of the Greek gods not to slut-shame ancient deities or point out how we sanitize myths for children, but to point out that demigod genetics and parentage is always questionable at best. I mean, your mom screwed a swan. What does that do to your DNA? And so arguing Leah is unequal to playing the fictional offspring of a mythological being due to her melanin content is… well, racist and insane. It’s also illogical from a story standpoint as Athena doesn’t have physical relationships with the fathers of her children, or give biological birth.

Riordan doesn’t mince words on the subject:

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.

And before you resort to the old kneejerk reaction — “I am not racist!” — let’s examine that statement too.

If I may quote from an excellent recent article in the Boston Globe about Dr. Khama Ennis, who created a program on implicit bias for the Massachusetts Board of Registration for Medicine in Boston: “To say a person doesn’t have bias is to say that person isn’t human. It’s how we navigate the world … based on what we’re taught and our own personal histories.”

Racism/colorism isn’t something we have or don’t have. I have it. You have it. We all do. And not just white people like me. All people. It’s either something we recognize and try to work on, or it’s something we deny. Saying “I am not racist!” is simply declaring that you deny your own biases and refuse to work on them.

Well put, and an excellent reminder that not all people are the worst. There’s no premiere date as yet for Percy Jackson & the Olympians, but now that the principal cast is selected production should move along with typical Disney efficiency. And maybe we can cut Leah Jeffries some slack as she takes on this pivotal role. The author has spoken.





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