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‘Percy Jackson’ author condemns racist backlash to casting decision

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Rick Riordan, author of popular young adult novels Percy Jackson, on Tuesday defended the casting of a young black actress as Annabeth Chase, a character originally written as White, in an upcoming Disney Plus TV adaptation of the fantasy series. .

12-year-old actress Leah Jeffries has been ridiculed online since last week’s casting announcement for the Greek mythology-inspired show, which follows a demigod named Percy Jackson and his two best friends, Annabeth Chase and Grover Underwood. In response to the comments, Jeffries filmed a video – later shared on Twitter – in which she said, “Stop doing this. I know you think it’s gonna hurt me, though. It’s not. You are just wasting time. I still have confidence in myself. »

While noting that the response to Jeffries’ casting has been “overwhelmingly positive”, Riordan wrote in a blog post that racist comments towards Jeffries are “out of place” and “must stop”.

“You’re upset/disappointed/frustrated/angry that a black actor was cast to play a character portrayed as white in the books,” he said, adding that “judging its suitability for that role only and exclusively on her looks…that’s racism.

Riordan explained that the casting process follows Disney’s “corporate non-discrimination policy” and that “these actors are perfect for the roles because of the talent they bring and the way they have used their auditions to expand, enhance and electrify the cues they were given”.

“If you’re still upset with the cast of this wonderful trio, it doesn’t matter how many times you’ve read the books,” he wrote. “You learned nothing from them.”

The casting announcement also included reports that South Asian actor Aryan Simhadri had landed the role of Grover, who was also written as White in the books. This isn’t Percy Jackson’s first adaptation to star actors of different races than the original characters; in the 2010 film “Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief,” starring Logan Lerman in the title role, Grover was played by Brandon T. Jackson, who is black.

The racism directed at Jeffries echoes the experiences of other black actresses in young adult adaptations, like Amandla Stenberg. Although author Suzanne Collins described ‘Hunger Games’ character Rue as having “dark brown skin and eyes”, Stenberg faced widespread racism online after she was cast as Rue in the 2012 film .

Years later, Stenberg told BuzzFeed News that she already knew such racism existed — “that there was resistance to having black girls in movies, and that black women are dehumanized and their life is considered less valuable than white lives” – but that “the irony of the whole situation was that Rue was one of the only characters I could find in the content I liked that was literally written in black.

In 2016, Noma Dumezweni also faced an onslaught of racism after being cast as the adult Hermione Granger in JK Rowling’s West End production of ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’. In an interview with The Sunday Times, Dumezweni noted, “I’m a black woman who was given this character called Hermione to play on stage. But actually, we all grew up with the books, with Emma Watson playing her in the movies. The imagery is so strong.

The racist backlash was driven by “ignorance”, Dumezweni continued. “He drives me crazy. It’s a limitation. Because it’s an absolutely different form.