Can a Black Girl Play a White Character? Yes! Says Author of “Percy Jackson and the Olympians,” Rick Riordan

Can a Black Girl Play a White Character? Yes! Says Author of “Percy Jackson and the Olympians,” Rick Riordan

On May 5, Disney+ announced it had cast Leah Jeffries to play the role of Annabeth Chase in its upcoming screen adaptation of the young adult adventure series Percy Jackson and the Olympians. That move unleashed a firestorm of criticism on social media, with many complaints that a Black girl should not be playing a character who appeared as White in the original book.

Now the author, Rick Riordan (also the executive producer of the Disney+ series) is chiming in, accusing his detractors of racism while defending the choice of Leah Jeffries, whose credits include RelBeast, and Faith Under Fire.

The response to the casting of Leah has been overwhelmingly positive and joyous, as it should be,” Riordan wrote in a sharply worded blog posting. “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 made it clear in his pronouncements that he was upholding a “diversity is the best policy” stance, adding ”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.”

He also lashed out against social-media trolls who were posting disturbing messages about the young actor, writing  “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.”

In Riordan’s book and upcoming series, Annabeth is depicted as a daughter of Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom. After several years at the mythological Camp Half-Blood, she yearns to return to the world of humans and use her powers to do good and resist evil. Riordan and Jon Steinberg are writing the script for the pilot, being directed by James Bobin.

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