Rick Riordan Reacts to Criticism of Percy Jackson Casting: ‘Friends, That is Racism’

Posted 2022/05/10 3 0

There is often a rhetorical theme when it comes to the casting of big movies and TV shows based on existing novels and book series. If a studio chooses to fill a cast with actors who match the original text in terms of race and gender, they are called out for not being diverse enough, but if they change characters from white to black, or male to female, they are attacked for being woke and “ruining” what the author intended.

The latter of these has reared its head following the casting of Leah Jeffries as Annabeth Chase in the Disney+ series based on Rick Riordan’s novels Percy Jackson and the Olympians. However, as several comments were made about the casting of a black actress as a character who was described as white in the books, Riordan took to his blog to say that anyone who has an issue with the casting can take it up with him personally.

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It was announced last week that Walker Scobell will be playing the title role of Percy Jackson in the upcoming series and will be joined by Aryan Simhadri and Leah Jeffries, who have been cast in the roles of Grover and Annabeth, respectively. While the casting was welcomed by many, there were enough comments about Jeffries portraying Annabeth to force Riordan to make a lengthy post, which he commented on, saying it’s “a shame such posts need to be written, but they do.” His post began:

“I have been clear, as the author, that I was looking for the best actors to inhabit and bring to life the personalities of these characters, and that physical appearance was secondary for me. We did that. We took a year to do this process thoroughly and find the best of the best. This trio is the best. Leah Jeffries is Annabeth Chase. 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. 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.”

Riordan continued to say that the process for casting was done via Disney’s non-discrimination policy, which means that there is no one who cannot audition for a role. He linked the whole process and how some people have conducted themselves online following the casting announcement to the books themselves, saying, “Anyone can be a hero. If you don’t get that, if you’re still upset about the casting of this marvellous trio, then it doesn’t matter how many times you have read the books. You didn’t learn anything from them.”

Percy Jackson is Not The First Show to Attract Arguments About Race in Casting

In the Percy Jackson books, Annabeth is the daughter of Greek Goddess Athena and helps Percy find his way in the mythological world he finds himself. In the books, like the many depictions of the goddess Athena herself in Greek paintings and drawings, the daughter of Athena, Annabeth, is white. When it comes to casting the role though, there is no valid reason why an actress such as Leah Jeffries cannot bring the spirit and soul of the character to life just because of her skin color.

Recently there have been a number of castings that have raised similar complaints on social media, including the casting of Lance Reddick as Albert Wesker in Netflix’s Resident Evil series, a character that was white in all of his video game appearances. Another recent casting to cause uproar was a mini-series about the life of Anne Boleyn, the second wife of Henry VIII of England, when the historically white queen was portrayed by Black actress Jodie Turner-Smith. This led to many online arguments that no one would use identity-conscious casting for a role based on Martin Luther King, or Nelson Mandela, which in turn proved that while diversity in television and movies is happening, it is still a long way from being a smooth path to tread for studios.

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