Actress Leah Sava Jeffries has been met with considerable backlash upon the announcement of her casting.
Since the main cast of Percy Jackson for Disney+ was first announced theres been a disheartening amount of backlash in response to some of the choices that were made namely when it comes to the decision to cast Leah Sava Jeffries as Annabeth Chase. In the books Annabeth is described as a young white girl with blonde hair and gray eyes. Jeffries on the other hand is a young Black girl. Since the reveal of her role as Annabeth in the upcoming series Jeffries has faced a considerable amount of racist remarks and critique revolving around her portrayal of the character all of which have come before shes even had a chance to make it to the screen. Jeffries Tiktok page had to be taken down due to the amount of harassment she was receiving. Both Jeffries and Rick Riordan the author of Percy Jackson and the Olympians have spoken out against the hateful responses to the casting choices as complaints about her casting continue to pour through.
The Percy Jackson franchise is no stranger to casting complaints the 2010 movie and its subsequent sequel were bombarded with critique over the casting choice which focused mainly on the age of the characters most of which were in their late teens and early 20s when the original book characters were all mostly between 11 and 13 but also saw some grief over the choice of casting a brunette Alexandra Daddario as the traditionally blonde Annabeth Chase.
Why exactly are fans so upinarms surrounding the casting choice of Annabeth Chase? When a character is so beloved by a group of fans its often difficult for them to reckon with any portrayal of that character that falls outside of the image theyve created in their minds. That being said getting angry over the changing of a characters hair color or even the gasp! casting of a person of color for an originally white character is rather immature if not downright wrong.
Riordan commented on the sudden influx of hate being directed at Jeffries as well as her costar Aryan Simhadri in a post on his personal website. In the post Riordan stated he was looking for the best actors to inhabit and bring to life the personalities of these characters and that physical appearance was secondary… and went on to say that the actors chosen for the roles were chosen because they were truly the best. In response to the many people defending their complaints with arguments of loyalty and accuracy Riordan said 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.
As more and more adaptations ignore the pressures of total source material adherence an evolution in what a specific casting choice can mean has begun to take place. Using the Percy Jackson franchise as an example in the original books Annabeth was meant to be a commentary on the dumb blonde stereotype pushing back against the trope by making her a child of the literal goddess of wisdom Athena. Nowadays however the idea of the dumb blonde isnt as popular coming off as rather cliché and there isnt much of a place for bold statements based on someones hair color.
On the contrary the stereotypes surrounding young Black girls unfortunately continue to persist today and casting Jeffries as Annabeth feels like another wonderful step in the right direction even if the backlash indicates otherwise. Representation is tossed around and discussed so frequently that the impact it can have on young audiences can often be forgotten especially when it comes to groups of children that rarely get to see themselves portrayed in the media. The choice to cast Jeffries as Annabeth is an opportunity for more fans both older ones who grew up alongside the books and those that are new to the franchise to connect and relate to the characters they love so much.
In recent years more and more TV and film adaptations of written works have been casting people of color in the place of originally white characters. Shows such as Shadow and Bone with its casting of Alina Jessie Mei Li are proving more and more that casting specifically based on the physical characteristics of the original characters has become less important over time. With a departure from physical matching when it comes to written adaptations casting departments are free to focus on talent and ability rather than just a simple resemblance to onpage description which is the idea that Riordan made sure to point out multiple times in his aforementioned post.
The reality of the matter is that when an effort is made to be more inclusive those who might have been overlooked before based solely on race/gender/etc. are given opportunities to shine that they have not had previously. When more people from a specific group are given more chances to try then it stands to reason that more people from that group will succeed. The new Percy Jackson series is already proving to be a great example of this welcoming new interpretations of its beloved characters into its ranks and defying expectations as it does so. Riordans own dedication to diversity and his choice to remain a large part of the casting and story for the series has added to the support behind casting decisions made.
His outspoken defense of the show and its actors has not only helped to quiet the amount of backlash the series has already received but has also drawn in more attention and dedicated fans. Overall the new series is looking to be a wonderful new addition to the world of Percy Jackson giving fans the liveaction version of the story that they have been craving since the aforementioned and rarely discussed movies as well as offering a new and welcomed perspective on the characters that so many fans have grown up loving.