‘Percy Jackson’ Author Says Casting a Black Actor as Annabeth in Disney+ Show Stays True to Why He Wrote the Books: ‘Everybody Can Be a Hero’

“Percy Jackson” author Rick Riordan explained to Entertainment Weekly that making his franchise more diverse by casting Leah Jeffries as Annabeth Chase in the upcoming Disney+ series was always staying true to the reason he wrote the “Percy Jackson” books in the first place. Jeffries’ casting last year generated backlash from racist fans upset that a Black actor was playing a character that Riordan described in his book as a blonde white girl. Riordan immediately shut down toxic fans, and now he has told EW that Jeffries’ casting is true to the spirit of his franchise, as the only reason he wrote “Percy Jackson” was because his child was having difficulty in school.

“He was struggling with dyslexia and ADHD, having a terrible time in school, but the one thing he did love was Greek mythology,” Riordan said. “As a classroom teacher myself, I knew a great deal about Greek mythology. I loved teaching it. So I started telling him stories from the Greek myths and, when I ran out of the old stuff, I made up a new Greek hero: a modern-day kid named Percy Jackson who, like my son, has ADHD and dyslexia and finds out that those are indicators that you may well be a demigod. My son had no trouble believing that.”

Riordan continued, “20 years on, it was important that I looked at it again with fresh eyes and made sure that the story was speaking to all kids, and that everyone could look at this series and see themselves. It is inclusive enough that everyone can be a hero — after all, that’s why I wrote the book in the first place. My son, because of learning differences, was feeling like an outsider and this was my way of saying, ‘It’s okay. Difference is a strength. You’re gonna be just fine. And you belong in this world.’”

Jeffries herself told EW, “I’m playing a character that is a different person, different hair color, different skin tones, and all that. That’s what the prototype was. Just to hear that I’m playing her different was like, ‘Wow, I’m now gonna be an inspiration to other girls.’ My experience filming the series has been phenomenal and unbelievable.”

“The Adam Project” actor Walker Scobell is leading the series as Percy, with Aryan Simhadri starring as Grover. Amid racist backlash last year, Riordan published a blog post in which he stressed that Jeffries “will be a role model for new generations of girls who will see in her the kind of hero they want to be.”

Riordan also alluded to the fact that he signed off on the casting and that fans of “Percy Jackson” should, at the very least, trust the creator of “Percy Jackson” to cast the actor who best fits the role.

“You refuse to believe me, the guy who wrote the books and created these characters, when I say that these actors are perfect for the roles because of the talent they bring and the way they used their auditions to expand, improve and electrify the lines they were given,” Riordan wrote. “Once you see Leah as Annabeth, she will become exactly the way you imagine Annabeth, assuming you give her that chance, but you refuse to credit that this may be true.”

“Percy Jackson and the Olympians” premieres Dec. 20 on Disney+.

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