Percy Jackson Author Shares Statement On ‘Bullying,’ ‘Racism’ After Backlash Over New Series Casting

Percy Jackson and the Olympians logo
(Image credit: Disney+)

After years of anticipation, the upcoming Disney+ adaptation of Percy Jackson and the Olympians found its trio in The Adam Project’s breakout star Walter Scobell as Percy, Empire’s Leah Jeffries as Annabeth Chase and Cheaper by the Dozen's Aryan Simhadri as Grover. Following the casting announcement, there’s been a lot of conversation about the new additions, including some reported “bullying” and “racism” that the book’s author Rick Riordan is now calling out. 

Rick Riordan, who published the first Percy Jackson book in 2005, has been part of the casting process of the Disney+ series every step of the way. Following some online backlash particularly aimed at Leah Jeffries, who is a 12-year-old Black actress, Riordan had this to say: 

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.

In a statement on his website, the writer addressed the backlash by first saying that the response overall has been “overwhelmingly positive” and “joyous.” He shared his excitement for the young actress to become a role model for a new generation of girls once the Percy Jackson series becomes available (with a Disney+ subscription). He continued with these words: 

I was quite clear a year ago, when we announced our first open casting, that we would be following Disney’s company policy on nondiscrimination: We are committed to diverse, inclusive casting. For every role, please submit qualified performers, without regard to disability, gender, race and ethnicity, age, color, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity or any other basis prohibited by law. We did that. The casting process was long, intense, massive and exhaustive. I have been clear, as the author, that I was looking for the best actors to inhabit and bring to life the personalities of these characters, and that physical appearance was secondary for me. We did that. 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.

Rick Riordan also pointed out that many objectors of the casting of Annabelle have been quick to qualify that they are “not racist.” He brought about the point that the people judging the actress are showing prejudice because they are judging her based on her appearance, without having seen an ounce of her performance as the character yet. The Percy Jackson author also said this: 

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.

Back in 2020, it was announced that Percy Jackson would become a series on Disney+ and, ever since, Rick Riordan has been hard at work at finally adapting his books in a way that fans can be excited for. The book series was previously made into a film starring Logan Lerman and Alexandra Daddario, but the actors were way older than they were depicted in the books. Ultimately, many of the studio decisions made fans unhappy and, after the 2013 sequel flopped, 20th Century Fox pulled the plug on the franchise. 

All these years later, it’s great to see the Percy Jackson books getting the Disney+ treatment, reportedly with budgets similar to WandaVision and The Mandalorian. It'll likely still be a while before a premiere date is announced but, in the meantime, check out CinemaBlend's 2022 TV schedule for info on shows arriving in the near future.

Sarah El-Mahmoud
Staff Writer

Sarah El-Mahmoud has been with CinemaBlend since 2018 after graduating from Cal State Fullerton with a degree in Journalism. In college, she was the Managing Editor of the award-winning college paper, The Daily Titan, where she specialized in writing/editing long-form features, profiles and arts & entertainment coverage, including her first run-in with movie reporting, with a phone interview with Guillermo del Toro for Best Picture winner, The Shape of Water. Now she's into covering YA television and movies, and plenty of horror. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.