Disney Plus is developing a series based on the highly popular Percy Jackson novels by Rick Riordan. The series of books for young readers follows the titular hero as he discovers that he is half Olympian god. Percy is propelled from his normal adolescence into a hidden world of half-immortals and their parents, the Greek gods. Just like in the mythology upon which the series is based, machinations, peril, and adventure are the order of the day in the world of immortals. The series was previously adapted for the big screen, in two films starring Logan Lerman. The new series has been met with controversy even before its premiere, because of the casting of Leah Jeffries as Percy’s love interest, Annabeth. The young, black actress has been subject to heavy criticism online from those who do not approve of the casting.
Variety reports that the author of the series upon which the new Disney Plus show is based, Rick Riordan, has fired back with the strong support of Jeffries and condemnation of those online bullying the young actress.
In a blog post on the author’s website, Riordan writes, “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.”
Riordan continued, “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.”
Riordan asserted that he is the author of the series and that fans should at the very least be able to trust his seal of approval that the actors chosen for the series are perfect for the roles. The series was cast in accordance with Disney’s non-discrimination policies, and commitment to diverse and inclusive casting.
Sadly, these sorts of criticisms soon follow similar casting decisions in major sci/fi fantasy franchises. Zendaya received similar criticism upon her casting as Mary Jane Watson in the Spiderman films. Michael B. Jordan also received flack in 2015 for his casting as Johnny Storm in Marvel’s Fantastic Four. At the time, Jordan said, “Sometimes you have to be the person who stands up and says, ‘I’ll be the one to shoulder all this hate. I’ll take the brunt for the next couple of generations.’ I put that responsibility on myself. People are always going to see each other in terms of race, but maybe in the future we won’t talk about it as much.”
Seven years after Jordan’s words, inclusive casting still causes controversy, even in a franchise aimed at young people, like Percy Jackson. However, Riordan’s strongly worded statement is a reminder that Jeffries is far from alone, and many are proud of and excited for the ground she is breaking with her portrayal of Annabeth. As Riordan said, she will undoubtedly be a role model to many girls once the series premieres.