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The author of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians book series — and executive producer of the upcoming Disney+ series based on the books — has spoken out against racist backlash directed at one of the show’s actors.
In a blog post, Rick Riordan condemned social media trolls who have complained that Leah Sava Jeffries, who was cast as Annabeth Chase in the Disney+ series, is Black. Riordan describes the character as white in the books.
Disney+ announced the casting of Jeffries and Ayran Simhadri as Annabeth and Grover Underwood on May 5. They’ll star in the series with Walker Scobell, who is playing the title role.
The 12-year-old Jeffries said in an Instagram video that her TikTok account had been banned thanks to people upset with her casting: “They literally took down my whole account,” she said.
Riordan and his wife, Rebecca Riordan, who’s also an executive producer of the series, both issued statements against the harassment of Jeffries.
“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,” Rick Riordan writes. “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.
“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.”
Rebecca Riordan wrote on Twitter, “Demagoguery is a good word to know. Do we need to have a talk about the intersectionality of misogyny and racism? Misogyny is equally a problem here. We condemn both. Getting yelled at? Annabeth doesn’t belong to you. She never did. Leave Leah alone.” She also noted that Disney and Jeffries’ family are working to restore her TikTok account.
Percy Jackson and the Olympians centers on the title character, a 12-year-old who learns he is a demigod. He is just coming to terms with his newfound powers when the sky god, Zeus, accuses him of stealing his master lightning bolt. Percy embarks on the adventure of a lifetime to find the lightning bolt and return it to Olympus.
Annabeth and Grover are his two biggest allies in the books. She is a daughter of Athena who becomes Percy’s guide at Camp Half-Blood, a training ground for demigods, while he helps her navigate the human world. Grover is a satyr disguised as a 12-year-old boy, who will always jump in to defend his friends even if it means putting himself in danger.
“I was quite clear a year ago, when we announced our first open casting, that we would be following Disney’s company policy on nondiscrimination: We are committed to diverse, inclusive casting. For every role, please submit qualified performers, without regard to disability, gender, race and ethnicity, age, color, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity or any other basis prohibited by law. We did that,” Rick Riordan wrote in his blog post. “The casting process was long, intense, massive and exhaustive.
“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.”
In a separate Instagram video, Jeffries also responded to the backlash: “To whoever is hating — stop doing that. I know you think it’s going to hurt me. It’s not. You’re just wasting time.”
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