After a wave of backlash against the casting of the new Percy Jackson television series, author Rick Riordan has defended Disney’s decision to cast a black actor for Annabeth. Riordan stands with the casting choice, saying that the casting of Leah Jeffries as Annabeth Chase reflects the reason he decided to write the books in the first place to remind kids that “anyone can be a hero”.
According to Riordan, the idea to write the beloved series arose as he watched his son with ADHD and dyslexia struggle in school, but display an interest in Greek Mythology. “As a classroom teacher myself,” Riordan said, “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.”
As time has progressed and new social awareness has risen, Riordan claims that Disney’s decision is a reflection of the necessity to rethink the series so that its message of self-esteem and belief can be powerful for all kids. While enraged fans claim that Riordan’s original work presented Annabeth as a blond white girl, it seems that this is beside the point, that at the heart of the series is a message of inclusivity and empowerment from a young age.
The remaking of the series into a streamable television series is, in itself, an adaptation to make the story more accessible. Likewise, this new casting seems to be an opportunity to spread the inspiration that the series has provided for past generations.
Jeffries reflected a similar take on her character, pointing out that her character will be a new take on the story.“I’m playing a character that is a different person, different hair color, different skin tones, and all that.” A character, Jeffries continues, who is “an inspiration to other girls.”
The series will be led by Walker Scobell playing Percy and Aryan Simhardi playing Grover. Amidst the backlash, Riordan pointed out that he signed off on Disney’s casting of all actors and given his role as author of the books, that fans and audiences should give the actors a chance to show their talents.
Although the backlash against casting is no new ordeal after the controversy of Halle Berry playing Ariel in The Little Mermaid last year, The Percy Jackson predicament demonstrates a unique divide between fan base and creator across political and ethical lines. Although these fans claim to be standing up for the essence of the series, it seems that in doing so, the point is drastically missed and the author discredited.
Despite Riordan’s explicit agreement and appreciation for the new casting, fans fought against an infringement of a work molded to fit their own meaning. Author vs. fanbase dilemmas have been explored throughout recent years in fiction like Stephen King’s Misery and events such as J.K. Rowling’s bigoted comments.
Both demonstrative of modern-day tensions and additionally of the difficulties of a series’s legacy, these conflicts serve to pose new questions moving forward and to inspire a new discussion on the role of the fanbase in the continuation of work and the power of politics and political divide in the structure of an audience.
Riordan’s support of Jeffries is an urgent reminder to connect to the basis of the series, to carry the beloved message throughout this conflict-ridden climate and to leverage it against prejudice.