There’s trouble in the world of Percy Jackson, and it’s not just caused by the Lightning Thief.
Back in April, the upcoming Disney+ reboot series cast The Adam Project star Walker Scobell as the protagonist Percy Jackson. Late last week that casting was followed by a variety report about two other key characters. Aryan Simhadri was cast as Grover and Leah Sava Jeffries joined as Annabeth, rounding out most of the series’ primary cast.
In the original books, Annabeth is the daughter of the Greek goddess Athena. She’s a warrior who trains Percy early on, later becoming friends and then more than that as the series progresses. In the previous film adaptation, she was played by Alexandra Daddario.
There’s been some backlash in the fan community to Jeffries casting as Annabeth, notably for the fact that she’s Black. In an Instagram video Posted earlier today, the 12-year-old actress said that people angry with her casting had gotten her TikTok account banned.
In response to the backlash, Percy Jackson creator Rick Riordan released a statement on his personal website. He noted that most of the response was positive and condemned those that have issues with Jeffries in the role.
“If you have a problem with this casting, however, take it up with me,” said Riordan. “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 said that the casting for the series was always intended to be open and inclusive. He called the overall casting process “long, intense, massive and exhaustive.” Riordan insisted that Jeffries was the best actress for the role.
He went further, dismissing claims from those who said Annebeth had to be white to match up with the books. Riordan explained that those claims have come “from across the political spectrum, right and left,” but he denounced them all the same. “You are judging her appropriateness for this role solely and exclusively on how she looks. Friends, that is racism,” he stated.
He called on fans to remember the themes of the Percy Jackson books. “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. 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,” Riordan stated.
This is not the first time that actors or actresses of color in a Disney project, or any project with a strong fan community, have gotten backlash. Both John Boyega and Kelly Marie-Tran experienced mistreatment from fans and potentially Disney itself. The Flash actress Candice Patton has received online harassment for years, ever since she was originally cast as Iris West in the series. Eventually, the CW responded in an official statement on Twitter. And way back in 2012, Amandla Stenberg faced a great deal of harassment for playing Rue in The Hunger Games. She was 13 at the time.
The Percy Jackson reboot was announced for Disney+ back in 2020, alongside a host of other shows and films. That included most of the Marvel Studios shows, including The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Lokiand the upcoming Ms. Marvel. It also included Obi-Wan Kenobithe series that will reunites Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen. That show is airing on Disney+ on May 27, 2022.
Mike Williams is a Freelance Writer for IGN.
Image Credit: Disney