Rick Riordan, the author behind best-selling book series Percy Jackson and the Olympians, is calling out the racist backlash online over Leah Sava Jeffries' casting as Annabeth in the upcoming Disney+ show.
"Whatever else you take from this post, we should be able to agree that bullying and harassing a child online is inexcusably wrong," Riordan wrote in a blog post on his website. "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."
Following The Adam Project's Walker Scobell's casting as Percy Jackson, son of Poseidon, Greek God of the Ocean, Disney+ confirmed the other two leads for Percy Jackson and the Olympians, the title of the planned TV series adaptation of Riodan's books. Jeffries will star as Annabeth, daughter of Athena, Goddess of Wisdom, and Aryan Simhadri will play half-satyr Grover.
While Annabeth is described as white in the books and was previously played by Alexandra Daddario in the 2010 Percy Jackson live-action film, Riordan said in his casting announcement for the part that Jeffries, who's Black, was exactly the way he imagined Annabeth. "Smart, strong and courageous, a true daughter of Athena who has zero patience for the foolishness of a certain Seaweed Brain," he remarked.
Disney The young stars of Disney+ series 'Percy Jackson and the Olympians': Leah Sava Jeffries, Walker Scobell, and Aryan Simhadri
In a letter Riordan published online Tuesday, "specifically for those who have a problem with the casting of Leah Jeffries as Annabeth Chase," the author emphasized that he was "looking for the best actors to inhabit and bring to life the personalities of these characters." He noted "physical appearance was secondary" and cited Disney's company policy on nondiscrimination when it comes to casting.
Riordan stated those making racist remarks against Jeffries "are either not aware or have dismissed" her merits as an actor and refuse to believe him, the creator of the Percy Jackson stories, that she isn't perfect for the role.
"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," he 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."
Riordan closed out his letter by listing the qualities that define his books: "difference is strength. There is power in plurality. The things that distinguish us from one another are often our marks of individual greatness... Anyone can be a hero."
"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," he noted. "You didn't learn anything from them."
Riordan and Jon Steinberg serve as writers on the pilot for Disney+'s Percy Jackson and the Olympians, and James Bobin will direct. Steinberg oversees the series with his producing partner Dan Shotz, and both are among the team of executive producers, which also includes Riordan.
Percy Jackson and the Olympians will start by adapting the first book of Riordan's novels, The Lightning Thief, which sees a young Percy, who suffers from what he believes to be ADHD and dyslexia, discovering he's actually the demigod son of Poseidon. When Zeus, the king of the Gods, believes Percy stole his chief lightning bolt, Percy sets out with his new friends from Camp Half-Blood for demigods, Annabeth and Grover, to clear his name and retrieve the bolt.
Filming begins on the series this summer.
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