Racist backlash against a newly-announced Percy Jackson and the Olympians star has provoked the book’s author to speak out.
In the days after the announcement of Leah Jeffries playing Percy Jackson and the Olympians character Annabeth Chase in the upcoming Disney+ series, actress Leah Jeffries has received a wave of racist attacks, leading author of the series to put out a stern statement denouncing the attacks.
In a post on his website, author Rick Riordan wrote a post entitled, “Leah Jeffries is Annabeth Chase.”
Riordan wrote that the post is "specifically for those who have a problem with the casting of Leah Jeffries as Annabeth Chase," adding, "It's a shame such posts need to be written, but they do."
“The response to the casting of Leah has been overwhelmingly positive and joyous, as it should be. Leah brings so much energy and enthusiasm to this role, so much of Annabeth’s strength,” he wrote. “She will be a role model for new generations of girls who will see in her the kind of hero they want to be.”
"If you have a problem with this casting, however, take it up with me," he continued.
“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 continued that he was "quite clear a year ago" when casting for the film was announced that it would be in line with Disney's nondiscrimination policy, meaning roles would be cast with diversity and inclusivity in mind.
Riordan wrote that the casting process was “long, intense, massive and exhaustive,” and that he had been clear that he was looking for the best actors, regardless of race or other physical appearance.
“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,” he wrote.
He also specifically took harassers who claim to not be racist to task.
He wrote, “Some of you have apparently felt offended or exasperated when your objections are called out online as racist. ‘But I am not racist,’ you say. ‘It is not racist to want an actor who is accurate to the book’s description of the character!’ Let’s examine that statement. You are upset/disappointed/frustrated/angry because a Black actor has been cast to play a character who was described as white in the books. ‘She doesn’t look the way I always imagined.'”
"You either are not aware, or have dismissed, Leah's years of hard work honing her craft, her talent, her tenacity, her focus, her screen presence," he continued.
“You reuse to believe her selection could have been based on merit. Without having her seen her play the part, you have pre-judged her (pre + judge = prejudice) and decided she must have been hired simply to fill a quota or tick a diversity box. By the way, these criticisms have come from across the political spectrum, right and left.”
He also wrote that such fans have decided "that I couldn't possibly mean what I have always said: That the true nature of the character lies in their personality. You feel I must have been coerced, brainwashed, bribed, threatened, whatever, or I as a white male author never would have chosen a Black actor for a part of this canonically white girl."
He also quoted Dr. Khama Ennis from a Boston Globe interview about implicit bias, in which she said how implicit bias is part of everyone’s personal histories.
“Racism/colorism isn’t something we have or don’t have. I have it. You have it. We all do. And not just white people like me. All people. It’s either something we recognize and try to work on, or it’s something we deny,” he wrote.
Toward the end of his post, he refocused on the core message of his books, which is power in community, and "how "[a]nyone 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,” he wrote.
Jeffries herself has spoken out about the vitriol she’s received, saying in a video posted to social media, “To whoever is hating, stop doing that. I mean I know you think that it’s going to hurt me. It’s not. You’re just wasting time. I’m still confident in myself. Everyone is confident, everyone is happy for me. So don’t try to bring me down. It’s not going to work.”